Above: The mouth of Cable Bay Trail. 📷 Spenser Smith
I considered for a long time what to write for the column this issue. There are many disheartening events happening right now regarding pipelines (and leaks) all over North America, Site C dam, and deforestation. I acknowledge their existence in every way, but thought I would take a moment here to remind our readers, and myself, of the power and hope of spring—which, even after all of this snow, is coming.
While many people celebrate January 1 as the New Year, I celebrate the return of spring—it is time to leave my house, which has graciously protected me from inclement weather, and embrace new opportunities to explore, grow things, and learn things. Nature seems to echo my excitement. The air is alive with birdsong and the fresh smells of new growth from the conifers. The soil warms, welcoming seeds. The sun changes and days lengthen, beckoning us to stay outside longer and feel the warmth on our skin. These are real things—but they also have deeper, sometimes symbolic meanings that make them matter even more than the physical experience of spring time.
It is hard to not fall in love with spring when the trees begin blooming. There are few things more magnificent than the entirety of a tree covered in thousands, even millions of flowers, especially as most of these displays last only a few days or weeks. The Japanese have been celebrating the ephemeral beauty of the blossoms since the Nara period (710-794), gathering together for hanami—or flower viewing, which is centered around cherry or plum trees.
Festivals include poetry, music, dance, food, and drink, all celebrating the flowers which are a metaphor for life itself—luminous and beautiful, yet fleeting. As a sign of friendship to the city of Vancouver, Japan gifted 40,000 trees in 1957. Since the trees have matured, the city has celebrated with its own festival to celebrate not only the blossoms, but also the generous gift. Linda Poole, Director of the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival, describes the deep meaning of the celebration beyond the flowers, saying, “appreciating the beauty in life… makes life worth living. In our universal response to their beauty, we are united. Especially during these times, we must connect back to nature. Reminiscent of the famous Issa haiku, truly ‘there is no stranger under the cherry tree.’” This year’s event takes place from March 30 – April 23.
Easter is a widely-recognized holiday, celebrated within the Catholic religions as the resurrection of Jesus. But, this holidayalso has meanings that run deeper—temporally and symbolically. Originally celebrated as Eostre, the holiday was a celebration of a goddess whose earthly symbols were, coincidentally, a rabbit and the dawn. The ubiquitous Easter egg is largely taken from ancient belief systems as a symbol for fertility, signaling a new season of vegetation and the end of animal hibernation. May Day is another excellent celebration of fertility, observed throughout Europe for centuries—particularly by Germans and the UK. Originally Floraila—another festival of flowers—it involves singing and dancing around a central pole, symbolic of a sacred tree, the world axis, the phallus, growth, and regeneration. BC actually holds a claim to fame in this realm of celebration, with New Westminster having the longest continuously observed May Day in the Commonwealth, first celebrated here in 1870.
For the Saanich people, the two moons of spring, Pexsisen, is observed, having its own duties and ceremonies that acknowledge the re-awakening of the earth. This is the “moon of opening hands” or the “blossoming moon,” which recognizes that, just as the people open their hands to show thanks, the plants and flowers also begin to open at this time. It is a time when the land and the people express gratitude for a change in the season and an opportunity to grow. The warming weather announced it was time to turn to the Cedar—the most integral plant to Coast Salish culture—for bark-stripping and boat building.
This year, the spring Equinox takes place on March 20, but I can already feel my spirits, my body, and the land awakening to the potential for change. This is not just about wanting to be outside or planning the garden, but is also a recognition of the work that needs to be done socially. All around me, I see and hear people acknowledging a need for change in the way we treat each other and the land. Brought together by certain political decision on both sides of the US-Canadian border, social and environmental activists are raising their voices for a shift in societal norms and the idea of “progress”. This could be a “spring forward,” not just in a seasonal or temporal sense, but also in community building, equality, and environmental rights. Just try to remember to take time, celebrate, and express gratitude for the opportunity as you move forward.