On a sunny day, begin at the Panhandle Road and drive west on Middle Road. When you come to the sloping fields at Brookside Farm, where the oxen hang out, look out over the farm, over the Murphy meadow, across the Tiasquam to the oak woods across the river. At the top of the oak canopy, you'll see the subtle, but unmistakable red blush of early spring. Oaks, whose demeanor can be cheerless, even creepy, for months on end, apparently cannot resist the slow but relentless effects of the sun's northerly migration. Feeling it, they are inclined toward budding celebration, albeit modestly. It may be the most colorful moment of the mundane oak's life.
Then there's the forsythia, in early, eager bloom among the buildings at Brookside, another encouragement that we don't have long to wait. If you need forsythia in March, and who doesn't, you'll find it at Brookside.
Of course, Sunday's springing ahead is a sign as well. Time changes at 2 am. Better not forget. Summer time, daylight-saving time's more stirring name in some parts of the world, is supposed to make better use of daylight, by shifting an hour of daylight from the morning to the evening. Ben Franklin had the idea. And, people like it because it makes for long, summer evenings, beach picnics, cookouts, and merry late evening strolls along Main Street in the direction of an ice cream cone.
More importantly, studies show that daylight-saving time saves energy. According to a website devoted to time and its variations worldwide, "studies done by the U.S. Department of Transportation show that daylight saving time trims the entire country's electricity usage by a small but significant amount, about one percent each day, because less electricity is used for lighting and appliances. Similarly, in New Zealand, power companies have found that power usage decreases 3.5 percent when daylight saving starts. In the first week, peak evening consumption commonly drops around five percent." So, spring's on the way, we're making the evenings longer; and maybe we're doing something good for the planet. It's all good news.
But, spring doesn't enjoy only one, or even two, debuts each year. There's meteorological spring, which began March 1, and coming up on March 20 at 10 pm, there's the vernal equinox, or astronomical spring, the moment when night and day are nearly the same length and when the sun crosses the celestial equator on its way north. Then there's the dirt road alert that spring's arrived. When your dirt road has become pothole-ridden, littered with puddles large and small, and slippery as soap, winter's over, and spring's at hand.
Now, whether you get the news in the oak trees on Middle Road or elsewhere, or from this shifty time business, from the weather forecasters or the astronomers, from the forsythia, or even from the driveway, all signs point to spring, straight ahead, and thank goodness.
Don't be downhearted if you haven't noticed any of these signs. Spring is not geographically evenhanded. There may be more spring down-Island today than up. Puzzling as it is, that's often the case. It is no surprise that on the same March afternoon, it can be early spring in Vineyard Haven and late winter in Chilmark, sometimes the other way around. It is no more remarkable than those common summer days when Aquinnah and Chilmark (indeed the whole South Shore) are invisible in fog, while the horn at West Chop Light is silent.
Why should these small differences in geography make for noticeable differences in climate? People say it's the wind. I suppose they mean that there is more wind in Chilmark than in Tisbury (doubtful), and that windy places are colder (what about radiational cooling?). Maybe there's more hot air in Tisbury, and it loafs around pestering the crocuses and daffodils which consequently jump up in equinoctial agitation.
Or maybe it's the personalities of Chilmarkers - peculiar, reserved, crabbed, unapproachable, at least according to this hypothesis. The human chill slows the gathering spring. Maybe Tisbury folk are bubbly, antic, and warmhearted. The municipal wackiness gives spring a boost.
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. Nevertheless, I can tell you that the signs of spring's accelerating south to north progress are multifold, and they slap you right in the face, if you're in the mood for them.