Winter’s third phase, late winter, is the vestibule to early spring, rousing small mammals to courtship and growing the cardinal mating songs. As the birds call out the end of deepest winter, Lenten roses (hellebores) bloom in the most sheltered microclimates. Among the earliest flowers to blossom, the Lenten rose prophesies precocious aconites and snowdrops, snow crocus and soft violet henbit. Maple sap runs when hellebores bloom, and most of the nation's lambs and kids are born.
When you hear the cardinals sing before dawn and see the petals of the Lenten rose, you will know that frogs are mating in the Deep South and that salamanders will soon be breeding in the slime of southern wetlands. From the Carolinas west, crocus, daffodil and tulip foliage emerges in the garden, budding for Chinese New Year.
Juncos heed the late winter calls, readying for migration north. Robins and bluebirds often come north across the Ohio River. Pussy willows crack and stretch when the January thaw combines with the Groundhog Day thaw at the beginning of February. Sometimes moss grows all across the wet surface of fallen logs.
And throughout the country average temperatures, which have remained stable from the middle of January, climb one degree. That rise may not be obvious in any particular year, but it does represent the cumulative wisdom of all the years on record, revealing the inevitable turn of the Earth toward June.
This is Bill Felker with Poor Will’s Almanack. I’ll be back again next week with notes for the second week of late winter. In the meantime, celebrate the year of the rooster – and the arrival of late winter.