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  • Writer's pictureClaire Sandys

The season of March

My Why audio version of this blog available here.

There’s no shortage of things to talk about when it comes to March. It’s the second of seven months to have 31 days. In the Northern Hemisphere it’s the meteorological beginning of spring, meaning for our Southern Hemisphere friends it’s the start of Autumn. Its name comes from the Roman god of war, Mars. It was the first month of the Roman calendar until 153 BC and some cultures still celebrate the beginning of the New Year in March. In Finnish the name of the month (which I cannot pronounce) means ‘earthy month’, possibly referring to the first appearance of earth from under the winter snow.

And there’s a whole host of exciting things that can fall into this month in the UK. This year we welcomed March in on Pancake Day, or Shrove Tuesday, on 1st March. This is the last day before lent starts and historically was built on the idea that people would use up their eggs and fats before the lent fast, creating a day years later when a large percentage of the country has pancakes for tea, regardless of whether they follow lent. And unlike the olden day folk, cover their pancakes in ice cream and crushed Maltesers. Unless you’re a lemon, sugar and cinnamon person like me.

Every year Shrove Tuesday, Lent and Easter move around a little between February, March and April, so they’re not all in March every year, but there is the possibility of them. Meaning there’s a high chance they’ll be either pancakes or chocolate, which is a win in my book.

As a side note for the question that always arises at this point - ‘how do they set the date for Easter each year?’ - Easter is a movable feast that is celebrated on the first Sunday after the Paschal full moon, which is the first full moon on or after 21st March. Wikipedia says:

‘Determining this date in advance requires a correlation between the lunar months and the solar year, while also accounting for the month, date and weekday of the Julian or Greogrian calendar.’

And that is why no one ever remembers how they work out when Easter is every year. For your information this year Easter falls on 17th April.

In the UK, March is still pretty dark in the mornings and evenings, but we’re starting to notice a change. The evenings are slowly beginning to ease out like one of those long lazy stretches a dog does when it wakes up.

When we bought our current house we inherited with it automatic, solar powered, blinds that open and shut on a timer controlled by an app. Very fancy. I’ve noticed that over the last couple of weeks I’m needing to make the time they close later and later, they’re currently set to 5:30pm, it used to be around 3:45pm (the time that best suits being able to sit in the lounge with a light on, and everyone that walks past the window doesn’t feel the need to look in!).

The weird thing is, us Brits adjust to the light changes pretty quickly, despite the fact they always seem to surprise us each year. So at the moment we’re very used to our cosy dark evenings by the fire or the TV, and we’re not sure if we like this new light that keeps us doing things for longer and means we can’t sit down with a blanket and get all cosy, because that doesn’t feel right if it’s still light outside. Common phrases heard in March around here will be; ‘Do you know, it was still light when I drove home from work yesterday,’ or ‘You can see the evenings are getting lighter now.’ We hear them, we say them, we do it all again next year.

One of the best things about March in the UK though, is a bright yellow thing that pops up everywhere - and no, it’s not the sun. It’s daffodils. In fact, March’s birth flower is the daffodil. And they’re popping up everywhere and we Brits love them.

[Daffodils in our garden this week]

March brings breezes loud and shrill, Stirs the dancing daffodil. Sara Coleridge

I saw a funny illustration on social media that summed up the poor daffodils this year perfectly:

So there are real signs of hope that better weather and times are ahead of us in March, and you can feel and smell it in the air as nature wakes up again.

Springtime is the land awakening. The March winds are the morning yawn. Lewis Grizzard

But there’s something else that’s very special that starts in March. It’s quiet (at first), few hear or notice it at all, it’s like the silent rising of the moon that goes unnoticed (except it’s not so silent). One morning, if you happen to wake up early enough, the dawn chorus has commenced. All the little birds we have around us (because we’re not blessed with eagles, vultures or anything bigger than buzzards around here) get up, and as the daylight hours get longer, they switch into breeding mode. Being too dark to forage in the early mornings, they start to find a mate about an hour before sunrise, and to do that they sing. It’s often around 5am and it’s usually kicked off by one bird that throws back the duvet and for no apparent reason to us humans, just sings his heart out into the dark. Then gradually others join in. If I happen to wake and hear it, I quickly stick my head out of the window into the dark and listen to a sound that is pure peace, tranquillity, chaos and harmony all rolled into one. It’s majestic. If you know your bird song, I’m told you will hear robins, blackbirds and thrushes among the first to strike up.

The dawn chorus starts in March, but actually reaches its peak in May, and I’m going to do my best to get a recording of it for you.

Another gorgeous sight in our fields is the arrival of lambs. Is there anything more innocent than a lamb gambolling around a field, skipping and running, then collapsing into a soft heap for a nap? My husband and I used to go and help with lambing on a local farm, we went for quite a few years running and it was a highlight in my year. Helping lambs latch onto their mothers, and seeing the nervous trust of a mother as she lets you get in the pen with her babies. Feeding the naughty orphans, or norphans as I called them, from bottles as they greedily guzzled their milk. Watching the adoption process of giving orphans to a new mum without her noticing. I even have photos of me with my arm halfway in the back end of a ewe, I’ll put a link to the tweet here. You only have to search Twitter for ‘@clairesandys lamb’ to find all my photos of lambs being born and fed. It was one of those experiences in life that just fed me in a way that was healing on a level not much else was.

Then on the last Sunday in March we put our clocks forward an hour, and you can hear the collective whisper of ‘Spring forward, fall back’ to remember which way to wind the clock. The only time we all use the word ‘fall’ and not ‘autumn’ in the UK because, well, ‘Spring forward, Autumn back’ just doesn’t quite work. Maybe ‘Spring forward, Autumnity back’ has a ring to it though (see previous blog; The Autumn Fall).

And from here begins the longer daylight hours, a new warmth in the sun, blossom on the trees, and the hope that better days are ahead, because it’s hard to believe bad things can still happen on sunny days.

March as a month actually has a reputation of being a bit unpredictable. The idea of the 'Mad March Hare' comes from the behaviour of hares you're most likely to witness in March, where they get involved in madcap chases and furious boxing matches. Although it’s not actually 'mad' behaviour, it’s just courting. The weather is still very interchangeable and there’s an old belief that if a month came in with bad weather, it should go out with calm, docile weather. As March is so unpredictable it was the month that got put into the phrase that was coined for this kind of weather behaviour, and so a lot of us have heard the expression: ‘If March comes in like a lion, it goes out like a lamb’. Seeing as we were braving a storm just before March started, I’ll keep you posted on that front.

Many of the world’s greatest writers have written about March.

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade. Charles Dickens

In March the soft rains continued, and each storm waited courteously until its predecessor sunk beneath the ground. John Steinbeck

So what can we take from this interesting month? It’s associated with weather extremes, lions and lambs, daffodils, religious celebrations, new years, the start of seasons, the end of seasons, new life, new songs, nature awakening, hope for what’s ahead.

Well, there’s something else that brings me a lot of joy in March. When we completely redesigned our garden in between lockdowns in September 2020, we removed all the artificial grass and decking that we inherited with the house and put in everything we could squeeze to bring wildlife to our backdoor.

(I’ll add some photos because I have a feeling I’ll refer to my garden a lot in this series).

As you can see it went from artificial, to mud bath, to wildflowers, bee friendly shrubs, a pond, a bug hotel, a compost, pots, herbs, climbers, trees, bird feeders. On one particular shopping trip with my mother-in-law to find shrubs we came across a short stumpy sort of tree bush thing that I’d never heard of. It was about two feet tall and two feet wide, with big, wide spread branches and huge oval green leaves, a few of them on each branch, not full of them. Drawn to it, I put it in my trolley (plant with red arrow pointing at it below).

I planted it by the pond and enjoyed its leaves and shape very much. Then winter came and the leaves fell off and I was wondering if these bare branches would work in the middle of the garden but the shape was still something I was enamoured by. Then these weird little bulbous bud things appeared at the end of each bare branch. I wasn’t sure what they were but they stayed there all winter. Every branch just ending in one of these buds.

They looked like they’d open up into something but I couldn’t see what it would be and I wondered if they’d arrived too early, after all, nothing else was in bud. Then a couple of weeks ago they started to open, just like they did last year.

And what emerges is this gorgeous yellow flower that is made up of about 50-80 smaller yellow flowers.

But that’s not even the best bit about this shrub. The fragrance these flowers give off is nothing short of wonderful. It’s like an amazing perfume, that for me, rivals the best rose I’ve smelt. I wish I could capture it and send it through the podcast to you.

Those of you that are gardeners might have guessed the name of this shrub, though it does seem slightly unusual to most people. In common terms it’s a Paperbush, but the proper name is Edgeworthia Chrysantha Grandiflora. You can Google it to find images of shrubs much larger than mine.

But there’s a sort of humility about this bush, because the flowers all hang down, facing the ground. So to see their full beauty and smell the fragrance I have to lift their head.

How many of us hide our true fragrance and hang our heads down, so others can’t see our beauty, our story, our scars or our true face? Do you believe you don’t have a fragrance about your personality that others would benefit from and enjoy? One of the things I love most about interviewing people on The Silent Why about their losses, is that it feels like when someone shares their innermost hurt, and their toughest moments, they are lifting their head, even if just briefly, and the beauty and the message that radiates from that is like a sweet fragrance to others. A moment of ‘oh, I’m not alone,’ ‘it’s not just me.’ There’s a lot of power in that. I want to encourage you to lift your head and let people see who you truly are, and what you are truly capable of, and not worry about the repercussions. Yes, the wind will still come, you will get rained on, and sometimes you’ll get knocked and battered, but that happens whether you lift your head or not.

And I was reminded this week the flowers on the Edgeworthia actually seem to hang down for purpose, it’s not really that they hang down, so much as they are ‘making way’. Because now there is something else pushing through. Something bigger, something that will last longer.

New leaf buds have started emerging through the same place the flowers grow, at the end of the branch. There is the tension of winter’s buds flowering, and emitting a fragrance for the start of spring, and the new leaves coming to adorn the plant for summer.

In March, winter is holding back and spring is pulling forward. Something holds and something pulls inside of us too. Jean Hersey

Living with grief and loss we live in that tension of something holding back and something pulling forward and it’s a fine balance of allowing it to do that in the right way, for the right amount of time. If we let the loss pull us completely back, we end up in the dark, losing sight of the hope to come. If we let the hope pull us forward, we risk not dealing with the grief and always trying to outrun it, growing weary and tired. It is tiring living in that tension sometimes, but when you allow the two to weave together, the hope holding you up and easing you forwards, and the grief grounding you in where and who you are now, a new type of strength can emerge. At the end of these branches I see a whole story of loss and life, working together, to create beauty in every season.

Some think the Edgeworthia is a bit dull in the summer, with it’s large green leaves and no flowers, but those of us who know it well, know that it has a special time to bloom, when all else is only just waking up, it’s like the dawn chorus, it’s bloom is greatest before the dawn of spring. And your story is sometimes it’s most powerful just before the spring appears in your situation. So lift your head now, don’t wait for the summer. Your story, your tears, your smiles, your hope, your fears, your face - is more beautiful to see emitting through your winter days than it is in your summer.

I’m going to finish with a few verses from a William Wordsworth’s poem.

To My Sister It is the first mild day of March: Each minute sweeter than before The redbreast sings from the tall larch That stands beside our door. There is a blessing in the air, Which seems a sense of joy to yield To the bare trees, and mountains bare, And grass in the green field. My sister! (’tis a wish of mine) Now that our morning meal is done, Make haste, your morning task resign; Come forth and feel the sun. Edward will come with you—and, pray, Put on with speed your woodland dress; And bring no book: for this one day We’ll give to idleness. Love, now a universal birth, From heart to heart is stealing, From earth to man, from man to earth: —It is the hour of feeling. One moment now may give us more Than years of toiling reason: Our minds shall drink at every pore The spirit of the season. Some silent laws our hearts will make, Which they shall long obey: We for the year to come may take Our temper from to-day. And from the blessed power that rolls About, below, above, We’ll frame the measure of our souls: They shall be tuned to love. Then come, my Sister! come, I pray, With speed put on your woodland dress; And bring no book: for this one day We’ll give to idleness.

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