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Signs of Spring in Nebraska

The first signs of spring in Nebraska are often difficult to discern — even to the watchful, experienced eye.

| February 2013

  • Seasons On The Farm
    "Seasons on the Farm," edited by Amy Glaser, compiles the musings of several rural writers on farm life throughout the year — from the first signs of spring to the biting cold and barren landscapes of deep winter.
    Cover Courtesy Voyageur Press
  • Plow Horse
    Two horses pull a Deere plow through this field in Colorado in 1915.
    Photo Courtesy Voyageur Press
  • Man Planting
    Ichiro Okumura, 22, from Venice, California, thins young plants in a two-acre field of white radishes in Manzanar, California. The photograph was taken in June 1942.
    Photo Courtesy Voyageur Press

  • Seasons On The Farm
  • Plow Horse
  • Man Planting

From the first signs of spring to the fireside planning on a chilly winter night, life on a farm revolves around the seasons of the year. The rural music of this seasonal rhythm sounds through the pages of Seasons on the Farm (Voyageur Press, 2007). Writers offer memories of farm life and reflections on its seasonal unfolding, from spring planting through hay baling to harvest suppers in a two-room country schoolhouse. Some funny, some poignant, these evocative essays are illustrated with black-and-white historical photographs and crisp color images that conjure the life of a farm for readers who have known that world intimately, or have only dreamed of it. The following excerpt is taken from the essay “Signs of Spring” by Roger Welsch.  

Buy this book in the Farm Collector store: Seasons on the Farm. 

My perceptions about spring are determined almost completely by my personal and lifelong geographic orientation. I’ve spent most my life right here in the Middle of Nowhere, the Middle of Everywhere, smack dab in the middle of the nation — Nebraska — and all of the last thirty years smack dab in the middle of Nebraska: Howard County. I’m educated and traveled enough to have strong suspicions that what I know about spring doesn’t translate to other parts of the nation or world, so you’ll have to keep that in mind as you consider my confusion — starting with I don’t even know when it is spring.

It doesn’t help that out here in the middle of America’s Steppes, the Great Plains, spring lasts about three-quarters of an hour and usually comes as a total surprise one afternoon in May, probably when I’ve just eaten lunch and am taking a nap. Or maybe April. Or June. That’s another problem — not only is a Plains spring so short in duration you might miss it altogether, you never know when it’s going to start, so if you’re not keeping a sharp eye out for it, it’s liable to be over before you even notice.

On the Plains (and I suspect in a lot of other places, too) you can pretty much forget about all the conventional, standard, authorized, official thresholds usually cited for the arrival of spring. March 20, the vernal equinox, is when the day and night are of equal length and is used in almanacs and on calendars as the official celestial arrival of spring, but around here, it only means that once again I forgot my wife Linda’s birthday and have roughly twelve hours to get to town and find a gift that suggests I gave a lot of time and thought to it this time. While the thing about day and night being equal and the sun rising and setting dead east and west on this day means a lot to me and the six or eight other druids in Howard County, Nebraska, for people in the city, it means only that they have to face directly into the sun both going to and coming home from work. In my days of teaching at a major university, I was dismayed and discouraged to find out how few young people today even know that the sun comes up in the east every morning, or that the point of its rising and setting moves along the horizon in a regular and cosmically profound way. My own daughter, who grew up in the rural countryside, can’t even tell which direction is east or west, yet notice the sun coming up or setting there.

Moreover, while March 20 certainly comes about the time everyone is sick and tired of winter and more than ready for spring, the fact of the matter is, on March 20, we have at least four, maybe six, more weeks of wet and cold ahead of us. Our worst blizzard this year came in March, and that is anything but unusual. The perfidy of March falsely promising an imminent spring has, in fact, been noted in the folk wisdom of the rural Plains. One old settler told me that it isn’t so much the long winters that make the trouble as it is the seventy-eight days in March. Another opined to me with painful accuracy that, “March in Nebraska is like a Model A Ford — just enough spring in it to make your ass tired.”


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