A Solitary Walker: The first presentiment of spring

By MICKI COLBECK

For the Valley News

Published: 02-02-2024 10:01 PM

It is Imbolc, the time for lambing, seed catalogues, and garden sketches. Groundhogs and bears are stirring. The sun lingers on the western hills, listing just a bit more to the north each afternoon.

We are at the halfway point between the longest winter night and the equal nights and days of spring equinox. When I open my eyes in the morning and look out toward Kibling Hill, it rests in a fiery orange alpenglow as the sun takes its sweet time to crest the pines.

The willows along the Ompomponoosuc are just starting to glow yellow. We smell the change when the dogs and I go out skiing in the slush, and the odors of rodents drive the dogs to leap, nose first into the snow. I hear it in the voices of raucous crows and blue jays preparing to claim territory. I smile at the bright blobs of yellow on the butts of a few male goldfinch, and red on the purples. It won’t be long before these flocking birds go off to their nesting lands and pair up, the purple finches likely to Canada, and the goldfinches who might stick around, waiting until the thistle seeds are ripe in July.

I love Imbolc, or St. Brigid’s Day as it became known after Christianity moved across Europe, and the pagan goddess Brigid became a saint. I love knowing that we have made it through the darkest nights of winter, even though February can bring biting cold, March may dump deep, wet snowfalls and April, always cruel, bounces between Hawaii and Antarctica.

Brigid could have been a Vermont woman, pagan goddess of poets, leechcraft, and smithing. She is fierce, a protector, a woman of insight. She reminds me of our local women farmers, Amy, at Rockbottom, Hillary at Winding Brook, Nora at Sweetland. These women work year-round to birth lambs or cows, to plant crops, to manage farm crews, to bring the community wholesome foods from the land, while raising their own children.

We are reminded on St. Brigid’s day to do the following:

Find good omens for the weather, collect seaweeds and old grass for fertilizer, examine the stocks in the house, clean the house, make special food, make butter, make straw crosses to put above the door, put offerings in the window, make a good fire, dance and sing.

And, I will add, think about joining a CSA to help support our local Brigids and their farms.

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Micki Colbeck is a naturalist and writer and chair of the Strafford Conservation Commission. Write to her at mjcolbeck@gmail.com.