Welcoming the first day of spring on Monday is as hilarious as my finishing the last paragraph in a hardbound book and swiping my finger on the edge of that page so it will automatically turn itself to the next chapter.
Both are ridiculous.
If you’ve never held an e-reader, my comparison of a seasonally challenged spring and a magically turning page will make no sense. “E-reader” is modern lingo for a digital book or mobile electronic device that is a small computer substitute for a real, hold-in-both-hands, paper-pages book. You must touch-swipe the screen to turn to the next page.
Real paper book
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Last night I sat in my easy chair, engrossed in a real paper book version of the latest Steve Berry adventure. I finish a chapter and tap the edge of that page expecting it to turn automatically. Nothing happens. The book lies in my lap like the inanimate object it is supposed to be.
The “stupid!” light bulb clicks on in my brain. Duh. This is a real book. My e-reader is upstairs on the nightstand, where I keep it for travel or nighttime reading in bed, the latter so I don’t have to turn on a light to read or find a comfortable way to hold a heavy book. As much as I cherish real books, an e-reader has conveniently weaved itself into my 21st Century existence.
This time, I knowingly swipe the edge of the real page and start laughing at myself. The guffaws are so loud and so long that I startle the sleeping wild birds fooled by an indecisive Mother Nature into making premature nests in nearby trees.
Real or feels-like spring?
A messed up spring. That’s what this Sunday missive is really about — a 2017 “spring” that recognizes no calendar days. My time so far this year on the Mississippi Coast and in the Virginia Piedmont convinces me of that.
On the Coast I burned up in medium-weight winter clothes when in fact I needed to bring summer-weight. Azaleas were already blooming in January so I suspect they are not going to be in their usual peak for the Mississippi Gulf Coast Spring Pilgrimage, which celebrates its 65th year next month.
In Virginia, my snow shovel has sat, unused, by the door as redbuds bloom nearly two months too early. Confused male goldfinches are already changing into their summer yellow feathers.
Because of the vernal equinox, Monday is the first official day of spring. But some think otherwise, especially those who define spring not as a calendar date but more as a matter of weather, temperature and rejuvenated life.
Before the page-turning incident, I perused digital editions of this newspaper, then called up The Daily Herald, to see what a Coast spring was like a century ago. (Computers do make the word world easier, not just in convenient e-readers but by eliminating days-long research in eye-numbing microfilm that can now be accomplished in a few hours of digital research.)
I found this gem in a 1919 article titled, “Spring on the Coast:” “Those who live here do not know how rich they are in those things which require no labor, no worry, no care — but merely sight, hearing and appreciation to count the treasures of springtime in the South, and of the Coast in springtime.”
Thoughts spring from the past
Most spring stories in the early 1900s wax poetic, such as this from 1915: “The seed is beginning to sprout, the bud gathers impetus to burst into the new-blown blossom, the faintest, ever so tiniest hint of spring in the air that sweeps from semi-tropic seas to Gulfport’s shores.”
▪ This from 1918, titled “Wisteria Time:”
“You have seen them hanging from trellises, canopied in the tree tops, lavender and white, filling the air with their sweetness. You may not have to look up — they always hang on high. But you can’t help but have caught their odor. It is so distinctive and does not blend with breath of other flowers.”
▪ This from 1919, titled “Sure Signs of Spring:”
“Trees have begun to bud out and the martins have returned and altogether these are excellent signs of spring. The martins come to Biloxi each spring, arriving in February from S. America to which place they again depart in September of each year. They remain during the spring and summer months living in trees and the small houses placed on high poles for their habitation.”
▪ This from 1917, describing a spring gathering: “The tables were beautifully decorated with crimson japonicas and azaleas and these were fanned by the breeze from the historic Pascagoula River.”
Most early mentions of a Coast spring center on the obvious flora and fauna, but here’s an observation for all who relish local seafood. It comes from Ulysses Desporte, a seafood pioneer and respected observer of the Coast’s seasons.
▪ This from 1910:
“While bad weather during the winter is disagreeable and cold days and rainy weeks are not enjoyed by anyone much, still such weather during the winter months is almost an absolute assurance of good weather in spring when the shrimp begin to come in, and if we have bad weather during the cold months, we can look forward to a good shrimp season.”
Shrimp, wisteria, martins, azaleas, so much spring bounty. They are likely to survive another century, even if less bountiful because storms and changing time diminish what we now cherish. Spring will likely be just as fickle, but the page-turning E-reader will by then be replaced by something as yet unimagined.
Kat Bergeron, a veteran feature writer specializing in Gulf Coast history and sense of place, is retired from the Sun Herald. She writes the Mississippi Coast Chronicles column as a freelance correspondent. Reach her at BergeronKat@gmail.com or at Southern Possum Tales, P.O. Box 33, Barboursville VA 22923.