Maybe We Should Call it “Sprinter”

The winged seeds of the red maple

The winged seeds of the red maple

The light is changing now, do you see it? Each day, the sun moves higher into the architecture of the trees’ bare branches as it travels across the sky.  During the brief interval that our deciduous trees are still properly naked, I like to spend time with the unimpeded night sky—Orion sprawls overhead, and brilliant Jupiter rises in the east after sunset.

But pure winter, if we ever had it, is nearly over.  January brings complicated weather to North Florida.  Cold fronts roll over us like breakers, accompanied by driving rain and then cold masses of western air. They don’t suppress the daytime temperatures for long.

Although winter technically rules until the spring equinox on March 20, spring commences now.  I grew up in New Jersey, where winter was crisply reliable and completely distinct from fall and spring.  Even after five decades in Florida, my internal clock is still attuned to those northern seasons.

Spring actually begins here in December: the red maples say it is so.  “The maple does everything double-time,” writes Joan Maloof, “Flowering while it is still practically winter and dropping seeds in the spring.”

Red maples planted along the street behind the New Leaf Market where I shop transitioned from a blush of tiny red flowers to crimson-winged fruit well before New Year’s this year. Cars queuing at the intersection of Magnolia and Saint Augustine roads heat up the microclimate for those particular trees, acting like the outdoor heaters you see on some restaurant patios.  Red maples growing in swamps and north-facing yards bloom weeks later than their urban siblings.

Chickasaw plum, 1/25/15, Eridu, Florida

Chickasaw plum, 1/25/15, Eridu, Florida

If you want to grasp something and try to make it last, spring in North Florida won’t be it. Willows are sending up long straps the color of Dijon mustard. The flowers of the bald cypress dangle in little bunches at the tall tips of those trees.  One of my favorite native shrubs, the thicket-growing Chickasaw plum, is topped with a haze of new violet twigs.  If you drive south on Highway 27 in late January, you will see these plums mounding along the roadside, threatening to flower any warm day now.

I know my northern childhood set the seasons in my bones, and that’s one reason I protest the brevity of our winters here.  But I also sense the warming climate, and am saddened for the greater changes to come to the Earth.

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Maybe We Should Call it “Sprinter” — 8 Comments

  1. Thank you for beautifully describing our North Florida winter. It is an amazing time of year–a mixture of spring/fall/winter and changes every day! If we only had a touch of snow now and then!

  2. Sue, i love your ability with words, your expression of your time on earth and what you see as you inhabit this space.

  3. Thanks, Sue. When you point out the traffic microclimates right here in our neighborhood, it’s easier to see also our traffic macroclimate.

  4. Pure poetry.
    I notice our red maple by the river is ready to pop while those 200 ft inland are still tightly closed.

  5. Sue – as I read your lovely essay on a 0 degree morning here in the Adirondacks I ache for my Florida home. I remember feeling frustrated with people who couldn’t recognize when it was winter in Florida even though the evidence was all around.