Sometime in the last few days, the bear came out of its den.
Today, I ran across bear prints while skiing in the northwest corner of Yellowstone Park. The tracks emerged from the woods at the same spot as last year, leaving a trail pressed into the snow in that pigeon-toed gait so characteristic of grizzlies. The bear must have its den in that bit of forest and I’ll look for its tracks again next year, after the cycle of seasons has turned once more.
Not only are the bears out, but the bluebirds have appeared, flitting and perching on the snow along the edge of the river where a thin strip of exposed bank is about the only ground in view – a source of bugs for the migrants. Bears and bluebirds can only mean that spring is fully here.
It’s my second spring of the year. Having been in Scotland from mid-January to the end of March, I watched spring come to the Highlands. The Atlantic gulf stream makes for a warmer climate in the Scottish Highlands than in Montana, despite Scotland’s northerly latitude — on par with Alaska. During my stay there, wild primrose appeared in the woods, daffodils blossomed in abundance in the gardens, geese and skylarks returned, and birds were pouncing on each other either in brawl or in breeding, sometimes hard to tell apart. Lambing season arrived, and fresh eggs were plentiful, for sale at the end of almost every farm drive. Sunlight stretched from 6am into late evening, and there were even a few cups of morning coffee and glasses of evening wine outside in the sunshine.
At the end of March, I returned home to a Montana blizzard. I stepped back into winter.
I blame my severe jet lag on this reversal of the seasons. My lethargy and fuzzy-thinking didn’t feel like the effects of changing time zones. It felt like everything was upside down. Disoriented, I settled into a different season, to watch spring come again.
There was a time when the cycle of the seasons was critical to human populations, when ceremony and rituals accompanied each solstice and equinox. Scotland’s landscape is full of prehistoric stone circles and standing stones aligned with the movement of the sun. Agriculture dictated a respect for the cycles. Cultures and individuals tracked the changes, shifting activities to meet the season’s needs. Today, it is all too easy to let the equinox slip by without ceremony, to note the solstice with only a nod. Our activities might shift, but usually it is unrelated to survival, simply a shift in lifestyle: hiking versus skiing, barbecues and picnics instead of hot toddies by the fire.
In this day when we worry about our disconnect from the natural world, embracing the change of seasons with ceremony seems a way to maintain connection with the cycles of the earth. I simply play my Native American flute on each equinox and each solstice. If I fail to do so, I feel my own connection with the natural world has slipped. Consequently, living through two springs in one year seems completely unnatural, out of sync with the natural order of things.
But honestly? I am thoroughly enjoying it. Spring is the season of new life. To experience it twice is a true blessing. I left the daffodils and primroses of Scotland with a sigh, knowing snow lay ahead. But right after the blizzard, red-tail hawks appeared, then robins. Geese are returning, and I am skiing in the presence of bears and bluebirds. My jet lag disorientation has disappeared, and I am reveling in the beauty of spring. Again.