There comes a day towards the end of winter
when the clear sunlight floods the world and we
tramp along feeling a tranquil joy in its glory.
We catch, though perchance but half consciously
as yet, the first vague hint of a coming time of
which the world itself is still unaware. The
spring we fain would stir in our steps meets with no answering
resilience from the unyielding earth. The gnarled crust of the
world lies unperturbed and irresponsive.
A fortnight later a new day dawns. The sun shines with no
added brilliance and the earth is still hard. But now in the
sun’s rays there is a graciousness, a penetrating charm to
which the world also must needs yield. The callous mask is
lifted, and there are signs of a responsive outward stir. The
whin flowers are no longer mere cold spots of gold in a dark
setting, but become significant, like eyes of some uncouth
being struggling to express a welcome.
But the harsh winds and the sleet showers return, and the
withered edges of the tender green buds are the record of their
visit; telling also of premature endeavours and ungarnered
hopes, of young lives cut off in their beginnings, or doomed to
a continuity of imperfection.
Then once more comes a reassurance that other days are even
now approaching. Yet still each fresh beginning, each brave
dash for life and vigour, is in turn checked by the night-frost
or chilled by the cold wind, until the promise that brought the
earlier expansion ceases to encourage or even to console. The
few flashes of colour gradually recede and are lost again in the
sombre monochrome of the earth.
But the stirring sense of uplifting grows with the lengthening
days, and with the shortening nights the power of cold and
darkness wanes. The earth’s crust softens, though hardness
endures beneath the lush surface. The openness of summer
soil through which the fresh air passes freely is a later achievement,
to which this superficial mingling of earth and water is a
passage and a promise.
The nascent vegetation has little individuality of form or of
colour. All the little soft cones, pushing from out their scaly or
woolly wrappings, have an embryonic likeness to one another,
and all are flushed with the same indefinite hue. Even yet, many
an early bud, pressing forward into a life too strenuous for its
quality, is blighted: so Nature rebukes precocity. But day by
day Spring advances and the leaves slowly separate from one
another as they are carried further into the airy world by the
lengthening branch between; and presently they unfold and expand
into their perfect shape, each becoming its proper self.
Their colour, too-at first neither green nor red nor yellow, but
strangely potential of any of these—becomes sharpened and
defined. The glow common to all the tender shoots concentrates
only in the youngest. These, growing conscious of
their distinction, clothe themselves in gracefullest shapes and
deck them in the gayest hues. Each turns to the sun to
absorb contentedly its quickening radiance, taking it, no doubt,
as surely meant for itself, and seeing in its own marvellous development
the regeneration of a world.
Spring in the North is a history of hopes often dashed—sometimes,
indeed, crushed immediately, but oftener rising again
with renewed vigour and concentrated purpose. So we have
learned to cherish hope until it seems hopeless, when suddenly
a new ray stirs us, only in its turn to be overcast. But again
and again it comes, until the gathering force of the seasonal
benediction augments and accumulates and we behold Spring at
last realised everywhere around us. Then we can wait with
assurance— ‘with fair hopes,’ as the Greeks would have
said— for the serene fulness of Summer, and for
Autumn that garners all the blessings of the year.
ANDREW J. HERBERTSON.
Herbertson, A. J. “Northern Springtime.” The Evergreen: A Northern Seasonal, vol. 1, Spring 1895, pp. 126-127. Evergreen Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2016-2018. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/egv1_herbertson_northern/