The Vernal Equinox pulls us into Spring

The Vernal Equinox ushers in a joyful time of growth, rebirth and renewal. With luck, the weather will be turning. The cold gloom of winter will be a memory. Thoughts will turn to the fresh new green foliage bursting forth on the hedgerows and there’ll be a real sense of warmth in the sunlight.

Spring sun arrives at last, bringing light and warmth
The arrival of spring light brings warmth at last

This year, Easter peeps around the corner. Beautiful hellebores seem to have a foot in both winter and spring; their alternative names are Christmas Rose or Lenten Rose, perhaps because they flower copiously throughout both seasons. Olive trees now put on fresh vigorous growth. Once it was a tree that could only be grown with tender care in our fickle climate but now they seem to thrive, even if their fruit is not always evident.

The leaves of an olive tree wave gently in the breeze
Silvery grey leaves of an olive tree wave in the breeze

The Hellebore gets its name from the Greek and a literal translation gives us ‘injures food.’ The Greeks used the plant as a poison – in food, and by adding it to a besieged city’s water supply. It holds a shadowy place in the flower world – half in spring, half in winter. Legend suggests that it sprang from the tears of a young girl who visited the Christ child at his birth but who had no gift to offer. As her tears fell, these beautiful white flowers sprang into being.

White petals resemble tears from a young girl who found she had no gift to offer the Christ child
The white petals resemble tears shed by a young girl who found she had no gift to offer the Christ child at his birth

Another legend claims that witches used the hellebore for flying and making themselves invisible. They would grind the flower into a powder, walk in it – and disappear! An ointment created from hellebore and fat, rubbed into the skin, would enable a witch to fly… or, at least, to believe that they might do so.

A broomstick leaning against a wall awaits its passenger
A broomstick awaits its passenger…

But the hellebore also stands for hope. It blooms in the dark of winter to remind us that spring will come and no matter how tough life might be there is something stronger pushing back.

The beauty of hellebores stand for hope
Hellebores: eternal symbols of hope

Olive trees are just as fascinating. Fossil evidence suggests that the olive has existed on our planet for between twenty and forty million years. Many ancient specimens exist – indeed it’s quite possible that some of the gnarled old trees in Gethsemane would have witnessed the agony of Christ in the garden just before his trial and crucifixion. The Hebrew word gatshmanim means ‘oil press’ and the name ‘Gethsemane’ means ‘garden with the olive press.’ Olive oil was used for cooking, for providing light and for anointing – it has long been held sacred and of great value.

A glass flask containing a quantity of precious olive oli
A flask holding a precious quantity of olive oil

It was an olive twig that the dove brought to Noah at the end of the great flood – ever since sprigs of this beautiful tree have been emblems of peace and reconciliation.

A twig from an olive tree symbolises peace and reconciliation
Symbol of peace and reconciliation

One guidebook for the Holy Land describes an olive orchard like this:

The lightest breeze crowns the olive trees with a silver halo that moves like a wave of light over the trees as the wind inverts the leaves. The underside of each olive leaf is covered with tiny whitish scales, while its upper side is green. When the wind rustles the leaves of the olive tree, this contrast of shades produces a unique silvery sheen. The light of the olive tree itself, together with the clear white flame produced by burning olive oil, made the olive the symbol of ‘light of the world,’ a symbol that helps explain Zechariah’s vision of the menorah.’
A family gather around a menorah
The Menorah – a sacred light

Look around you as spring advances and delight in all the signs of fresh growth and new life.

The long and winding road…

It’s well known that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. But is that always the best path?

Bustling along a straight path

If we’re pressed for time and need to make a journey quickly then, yes, the most direct route is probably the better idea. But, if you have time and opportunity, why not follow a different path? Same destination but different way of getting there. A change of scenery, alternative landscapes or city views. Different buildings, unfamiliar trees and fields. It is said that ‘a change is as good as a rest’ and just varying the route a little can offer you a different perspective.

That different perspective can provide real refreshment. Taking a different path might be just the boost we need – not only in literal journeys but in some of the more tedious aspects of life. If we get stuck in a routine that might be the time to do things in a different order. Juggle the chores, walk round the supermarket aisles in a different order or make changes to the route you take from one part of the office to another (and if you can add in a flight of stairs you’ll be getting some extra exercise!)

A winding path

There’s usually something interesting to see and experience if you adjust one simple thing or routine at a time. It doesn’t have to be dramatic – a simple tweak can be all it takes to give us a different ‘take’ on everyday journeys.

As the writer TS Eliot said:

‘We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.’

Quite an exciting thought…

Little Gems for February

The beginning of February marks the decline of winter. Candlemas, one of the Quarter Days, marks the midpoint between the winter solstice (21st December) and the spring equinox (21st March.) The promise of spring seems more apparent (although, of course, the weather can take us by surprise and deliver some sharp doses of cold, ice and snow…) But it is at this time that our senses, dulled by the sloth of winter, need stimulating and some of the early harbingers of spring can bring real joy.

Winterflowering honey suckle

Winter flowering honeysuckle is just one such that brings a breath of freshness. The flowers may not be all that impressive – although even this tiny white flower is an indicator of much more to come – but if you can get close enough to breathe in the scent of this jewel-like flower you will be in for a delightful surprise. Zingy, floral and fragrant this is a plant to delight and cheer the heart. 

Snowdrops burst onto the scene

Snowdrops are beginning to burst onto the scene – their pure white, delicate pendant flowers present a flash of bright light amidst fresh green foliage. 

A carpet of snowdrops can be a spectacular sight

A winter walk at this time of the year can bring the delight of a swathe of these pretty flowers – massed together they look like a drift of snow, brilliant when the wintry sun bathes them in sudden light.