Today is the real first day of spring. Sure, there’s that fake one that Calendar Nazis insist is the start of spring: The Vernal Equinox. But that day is completely meaningless to real people: Nothing noticeable changes. Also, this year it’s going to fall on Tuesday, March 20, and no one likes Tuesdays. Tuesday is the Brussels sprouts of each week. Besides, the word “vernal” is – to quote Mark Breen – “so eighteenth century.” Breen is the Senior Meteorologist and Planetarium Director at the Fairbanks Museum and Vermont Public Radio’s “Eye on the Sky. If he says “vernal” is antiquated, it is. After all, when does a weatherperson ever make a mistake? Meteorologists in this country are like Kim Jong-il was to Korea: They are flawless and their wisdom unimpeachable.
Then, of course, there is the advent of meteorological spring, which occurred back on March 1. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, meteorological spring consists of March, April, and May. And while I like the simplicity of that definition, the truth is that most years, March 1 is no different from February 28 or 29. (The only exception to this rule is when the last day of February falls on a Tuesday. By default, March 1 has to be better.)
So, trust me: Today is the real first day of spring. Why? Because today is the first day of Daylight Saving Time. We all set our clocks forward one hour last night before going to bed, trading a paltry sixty minutes of sleep for the magnificent reality that it will be light out one hour longer today than it was yesterday. To quote that renowned meteorologist and role model for tween girls and club promoters everywhere, Paris Hilton, “That’s huge.” Life feels different today, especially late in the afternoon when there is still a little sun from the west. Depending upon what time you eat supper, you might actually be cooking or dining when it is light out.
How pronounced can this effect be on our psyches? Once, when my wife and I were in college in Western Massachusetts, we picked a weekend in March and went to visit her mother in northern New Hampshire. This was the Mesozoic era, so there was no television in the house. Or personal computers. Or smart phones with apps for “Doodle Jump” and “Fruit Ninja.” We were in a serious news void. When we returned to campus late Sunday afternoon, we were baffled because everyone was already eating dinner. We thought it was five o’clock; it was actually six. Daylight Saving Time had arrived.
Of course, even dinnertime is a slightly imperfect barometer of this change. When I visited my father the last years of his life, we used to go out for dinner with his girlfriend and pals when a lot of the world was finishing brunch. We weren’t just early birds: We were positively aboriginal. It’s always Daylight Saving Time in assisted living communities in South Florida.
Sharon Meyer, director of the weather department at Burlington’s WCAX, sees the onset of spring as more of a process – and a beautifully poetic one at that – of which the arrival of Daylight Saving Time is merely one more harbinger. “There are always so many steps along the way,” she told me. “When the sap starts running. When the ice is out. When my shoes and boots are always covered in mud. When the red-winged blackbirds are back. When the pussy willows are out.”
I take what Meyer says very seriously, because she forecasts the weather, and – remember – when is a weatherperson ever wrong? In this case, she’s absolutely right: There are steps along the way.
It’s just that for me, the biggest game changer is Daylight Saving Time.