By, Jim Dees

When is spring finally spring? What is the smell/feeling/activity that makes you feel completely, totally, fully sprung? 

Is it when moss appears on the north side of a tree? (Myth). The first mosquito bite? (That’s January). When major league pitchers and catchers report for “spring” training. (Mid-February).

In my growing up, Mississippi Delta days, the old timers would opine that spring had officially arrived when the old fishermen and women lining the banks of Lake Ferguson, an ox bow of the great Mississippi River, sat on the ground to fish instead of astride a bucket. 

Others say it’s simply when the dogwoods bloom.

Summer is easy, we all know when summer starts. It’s the same day your air conditioner quits working.

For ye ole procrastinator like myself, I feel like spring is here when the yard gets ragged and it’s (past) time to mow. The wild onions are numerous and are flipping me off with their middle stalk.

If there is anyone in Oxford who knows spring, it would be our town’s master gardener and rock whisperer, Joe Ann Marshall Allen, who takes the wild onion example to its logical conclusion.

“I feel like it’s finally spring the first time we mow down the wild onions and get that wonderful aroma,” she tells me.

Indeed. You know it’s spring when your yard smells like an omelet.

For the late great writer, Jim Harrison, who often visited Oxford and loved our town, and who often painted the muse of nature into his work, it was all about the light. 

In his novel, The Great Leader – A Faux Mystery, his Michigan-based detective, Sunderson, gets depressed counting the long cold days until brook trout season.

“Sunderson kept a terse journal of the season, a winter count, in native terms, biding his time. He always celebrated the winter solstice on December 21 when it turned around and the light began to increase in increments of a minute or so per day.”

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac (maybe as dependable as Harrison and Joe Ann Allen, but maybe not), light increases rather unevenly over the winter months.

There are short bursts of extra daylight between Christmas and New Year’s Day, according to the Almanac, then after New Year’s, daylight goes up roughly two minutes a day. 

“By Feb. 20, the average daylight gain is three minutes a day. This is the average daily gain until about May. Once May arrives, the amount of daylight gain each day slows back down to two minutes. Come June, in the days leading up to the summer solstice, the increase in daylight slows further until about a minute a day.”

I trust old farmers but you never know. As Harrison concludes in his book, In Search of Smaller Gods, “Calendars lie. They’re a kind of cosmic business machine, like their cousin clocks, but break down at inappropriate times.”

My personal spring gauge of what is or isn’t spring is a simple question, the sartorial equivalent of moving from bucket to fishing off the ground, “Is it warm enough to wear a silk Hawaiian shirt and not get goosebumps?”

As they like to say in the legal profession, “It’s a yes or no question.” (Which isn’t true, of course, and lawyers know it. There aren’t any “yes or no” questions, with the possible exception of, “Do you like boiled okra?” Which is technically a “Hell no!” question – but I digress).

Here in Oxford, we know it’s spring when the joggers and walkers take to the streets, replacing the wintertime Santa Claus jogger. The runners glisten lithely as they glide past the town’s dainty dogwood blooms. The urban deer in the shrinking woods across from Sorority Row withdraw to the more wooded recesses. 

Out in front of some of the big box stores, plants and greenery are set out to plant the seed of optimism in our psyche. To wit: Is it possible I could buy this, plant this and not kill this?

On the other end of the optimism spectrum, also displayed, are mowers, rakes and other implements of Mass Dysfunction, including the twin agents of Satan himself: leaf blowers and weed eaters. 

I’ll see your yin and raise you a yang.

So that’s spring in a squirrel’s nutshell. More light, more warmth, more fun (Chapel Hart at Double Decker!), more chores, and more silk shirts of floral design.

Spring is a welcome mystery but we know it when we see it. Or smell it. Or shudder with that first sunburn of the year, welcoming a breeze from the south that somehow brings hope with it.

Yes, we are sprung.