After enduring a world war and suffering one of the hardest winters of the 20th century, 1947 delivered to a weary population a very special spring: warm, peaceful and full of hope.
It was said that one could hear a deep collective sigh at the smell of the first mowed lawn. It would be a grave disservice to equate our current situation with then, but the comparisons are quite compelling, and I'm sure that we'll be equally relieved at the lengthening days and warming sun of this spring. The months of restriction have seen many people re-discover the joy of nature whilst out walking, and I suspect that the spring of 2021 will have a special quality too, with a little more attention being paid to the arrival of the first swallow or emerging cluster of bluebells.
Easter bunnies aside, spring, I feel, is uniquely adult, for children tend to develop deeply imbedded memories of snowy winter days and the long hot holidays of summer. Spring - properly observed - doesn’t burst-forth, she has a creeping subtlety that requires sober maturity to appreciate and saintly patience to truly love.
I first fell in love with spring as a young man returning home in late April from a lengthy spell abroad. Travelling the last leg by train through the East Anglian countryside, I ventured to pull down the dirt smeared carriage window and suddenly I saw her, properly, for the first time, vibrant green, with a fragrance unmatched by any perfumery. She has the ability to trigger so many emotions even when viewed through a minds-eye far from home. The ascending voice of the skylark lost in a tent of blue; butterflies tripping through the garden and the distant enunciating cuckoo.
When expressing, unbridled, the season's exultations, it is difficult not to emulate the platitudes of nature's old poets, but 'Oh to be in England, now that April's there'.
I wonder how service personnel felt returning to blighty from far-away lands during 1947, for then, like now, families had suffered long separation and the 'special' spring must have felt, more than ever, like a new beginning. It is no surprise that people would seek the healing power of nature, and it is no coincidence that rambling, camping and hobbies such as birdwatching grew in popularity.
All springs are special, but some are more special than others, necessitating in 1947 George Orwell, better known for his dystopian novels, to write an essay in praise of that particular spring. The country had come through a long period of travel restrictions, shortages and the strong possibility of untimely death. Being a little closer to the reality of his and, as it turns out, our time, he discarded the sentimentality of Wordsworth or Shelley and chose instead the common toad as his harbinger of spring. 'Before the swallow, before the daffodil, and not much later than the snowdrop, the common toad salutes the coming of spring…' I have to agree with Orwell, the toad is to be admired, and despite the blemished skin of warts the creature is strangely alluring; their gleaming gemstone eyes sit in contrast to a blunt defiant expression. They live for years, even decades, preferring self-isolation in a damp hideaway, but when spring calls it to action it will cross roads, railways and housing estates to get to its ancestral pond, and unlike the frog will stand-up to the viper and fight.
Spring takes her time to get ready, she is caprice and changeable, sometimes turning a cold shoulder, other times hot with temper, but as with our toad, we love her - warts and all.
Robert Morgan is NWT Reserves Officer.
Header image: Bluebells by Rob Peacock.