On a day like this, driving down-Island on Middle Road, spring suggests itself. Of course, when it arrives, it will make its entrance at Vineyard Haven, not Chilmark. It may surprise you to learn that on the same February afternoon it can be early spring-ish in Vineyard Haven and late winter in Chilmark, but I'm getting ahead of myself. It's mid-February after all. Still, surprising as it may be, the varying mini-climates up- and down-Island are no more remarkable than those common summer days when Aquinnah and Chilmark (indeed the whole South Shore) are buried in a wet, wool sock of fog, while the horns at West Chop and Nobska are silent.
This morning, with the sun low in the sky but brilliant, the oaks beyond the sloping Brookside Farm fields, across the mighty Tiasquam, display a pubescence that is visible from 300 yards at 30 miles per hour. No color yet, but a promising fullness. The red oak blush that certifies spring will certainly be early this year.
There are lots of theories about why small differences in geography should be accompanied by noticeable differences in climate. People say it is on account of the wind. It 's gustier in Chilmark than in Tisbury (doubtful), and that windy places are colder (what about radiational cooling?). At the same time, the theory has it, there is more hot air in Tisbury, and it loafs around wooing the crocuses and daffodils, which jump up in receptive equinoctial agitation.
Or they say it has to do with personality. In Chilmark, folk are peculiar, reserved, crabbed, standoffish, according to this hypothesis. The human chill slows the gathering spring. By contrast, in Tisbury, folks are bubbly, antic, and warm-hearted. Municipal wackiness gives spring a boost. I have my doubts. It could be auto exhaust gases, or gift shop incense, for all I know.
I am not an expert on these things, and I have no opinion about the relative merit of any intellectual propositions which might explain what is going on. I've conducted a careful statistical review of every scientific study known to man, and I've found that results are unclear, statistical models are subject to revision, one study contradicts another, and more work must be done. So, I'm skeptical. Nevertheless, I can tell you that the signs of spring's accelerating, determined progress need no scientific corroboration.
Every evening, I drive by the boat on its trailer, shrink-wrapped in white. I am driven to think, the weather has been so mild, maybe I should tear that plastic off, get the outboard going, and put her in the water for a spin. Every morning, as I leave with the kids for school, frost lingers on the windshield, and I decide to leave the boat where it is. Spring pushes ahead, then waits a bit.
The gardeners, dreaming over their seed catalogues, ask whether you've made a planting plan. Is it too early to turn in the winter rye? Spread the lime yet? Spread the fertilizer? Soon, my mother, if she were alive, would begin to ask when the nurseries will get impatiens. Not yet, not for a while, I would say, impatiens myself.
Up-Island, spring requires faith. I know a March of daily 50-degree weather and dawn-to-dusk sunshine will speed spring along, but there's no chance of that. If the trees, in their suggestive fullness, say spring, the lingering piles of snow here and there, and the skim of ice on the Mill Pond say, not yet buddy. This weekend, folks were playing hockey on Whitings' pond.
My driveway says, have patience. When spring takes hold, the dirt road is a mess, squishy and full of holes. This morning, the road is hard, the smallish potholes empty and shallow. Soon, the road will be soft and slick, the potholes full of water and soft around the edges. The car will leave tracks in the dirt speed bumps. True signs of spring.
This morning, I was not the only one to notice that there was the hint of spring in the treetops south of Brookside. The oxen, two senior citizens, two young fellows, newcomers, lay gazing at the rising sun and the backlit woods. The oxen are working things out. One of the four appears to be the odd half-man out. He lies apart, his back to the threesome. There's a sad, wintry air about their social set, even though all four live in the same small field bordered by stone walls and the barn. Can't they all just get along? One hopes that advancing spring will thaw their chilled relationships, but we'll have to wait and see.