Nature Observation Through the Seasons: March Change and TransformationFeb 26, 2021 09:35AM ● By Tim Seifarth and Natasha Herr
Middlecreek Wildlife Refuge Photo by Natasha Herr
A popular saying I’m sure we have all heard is “change is the only constant in life.”
We need only to look at the past year or so on a global level, and personal one, to notice the truth in that statement. Certainly, to be a human alive on this planet right now is to be immersed in the process of change and the anxiety that can come with that experience.
It can be helpful to look to the natural world in times of hardship or distress. For the earth has experienced many phases, and may hold clues to how we can navigate the natural ups and downs of life.
March is a month of transformation. During March we find the spring equinox, a day when the dark of night and the light of the sun are of equal length; a day when two seasons meet, and the transition from winter to spring begins in full.
Weeks before, the cold season flowers will have begun blooming, defying the temperature; even unfurling petals and leaves in the subnivean zone, the name for the secret landscape that exists just beneath the snow.
The songbirds too, start preparing their nests for the eggs they will soon lay and the families they will shortly be turning their attention to raising. Keep an eye out for their signals of spring: the cardinals with the twigs in their mouths; and the robins with mud on their red breasts from smoothing the inside of their stick and clay nests with their feathers.
The tree sap begins to flow, thawing during the lengthening days, and freezing at night during the hours without sun. The sugar maple, the box elder, the sycamore and even the wild grape vine can all be tapped for fresh water, with a hint of sweetness from the sugars stored in the trees. It is from the sugar maple sap that maple syrup is traditionally made.
The animals follow cues and prepare to raise their young as well. The foxes and coyotes look for and choose their dens. The female deer grow heavy and round with the twins they so often carry. The insects and reptiles, amphibians and fish wait for the warmer temperatures to heat their cool blood and bodies so they can awaken to the bright months of spring, and soon to follow, summer.
The winters in our region, which have grown increasingly mild over time, can still be cold enough to freeze the Susquehanna River and its tributaries quite solid. As the weather shifts, so do the thick layers of ice, breaking apart and piling up in sparkling castle-like mounds along the banks. One of the oldest rivers in the world, the Susquehanna has been cycling through phases of warming and cooling for hundreds of millions of years. Older than the landscape that surrounds it—and in a process uncommon to the evolution of land and water—the hills of this area formed around the already flowing river, instead of the other way around.
Our world and all of its systems are based on resiliency; the ability to change and adapt in the face of both great, and minor, change. Over the span of Earth’s existence life has taken many forms. Our human perspective can be narrow, but during times when things feel unstable, it can be helpful and reassuring to take a moment to remember our place in the grand scheme of things.
Change is a constant; the wheel of the year always turns. Even in the midst of winter, we can be sure the birds will be making their nests before too long. Even on the shortest day, we can be sure the sun will return again in the spring.
Our beautiful and life-sustaining planet is in a constant state of flux and adaptation, and yet is also constantly seeking, and finding, balance. As a result, so are we. It is up to us to decide what we do with the many twists and turns life throws at us, and it is up to us to remember we are part of a vast system much larger than ourselves.
Nature Awareness Prompts for March
Each month in these articles, we’ll include a few nature awareness and observation prompts to help us tune into the season and the environment around us. These could include thoughts and ideas to look up and research, things to notice in the natural world according to the seasons, tips and methods for encouraging biodiversity and healthy local ecosystems and environmental factors, species and locales to observe.
• Look for one sign of spring in the bird world, one sign of spring in the plant world, and one sign of spring in the tree world.
• Take note of what time the sun rises and what time the sun sets, and notice how much the time changes each day.
• Pay attention to the sounds of the seasons: changing bird calls; ice breaking up on rivers, lakes and ponds; wind in the trees; rain and/or snow falling to the ground.
• If there is snow on the ground, gently pull away the top layer to discover the subnivean zone where small animals, plants and other creatures dwell in the winter.
Send us a message about what you see, hear, experience and find out. You can follow us on Facebook at EarthboundArtisan, find us on Instagram @earthboundartisanllc or email us at [email protected]. We can’t wait to hear from everyone!
Tim Seifarth, who has 24 years of experience as a landscape professional, opened Earthbound Artisan nearly a decade ago. Based out of Ephrata, and located along the Ephrata Linear Park Rail Trail, Earthbound is an ecological land care company and native plant nursery specializing in organic land management, permaculture, native plant ecosystem design and installation, dry stack stone work and riparian buffer and rainwater management. For more information, visit EarthboundArtisan.com and EarthboundNatives.com.
Natasha Herr has more than 15 years of experience as a naturalist, earth care professional, writer and community educator. Her passion is helping adults and children strengthen their connection to the natural world. You can find more of her work at NatashaTucker.org.