19 MAY 1900, Page 11


THE cold east wind has for weeks blown over our green fields, waiting to grow golden, and held spring fettered. Yet when released by warmth and sunshine how swift her step, and how sudden and spontaneous is the answer of Nature to her call! To measure the speed of spring is like timing the rainbow. The colours and forms are there on the instant, like apparitions. No one sees the flowers moving. Yet in an hour the lawn which was green is white with ten thousand daisies, or the beech which was russet and grey changes to a light-green cloud. Flowers, like butterflies, take the sun for master, and obey the young sun of spring as his willing and humble slaves. Some, like the butterflies, close their wings and sleep when a cloud covers his face. Six hours' hot sun- shine brought two-thirds of the pear-blossoms out this year, after which cold winds and clouds kept the rest from opening for a week. No cold seems able to keep the blackthorn bombs from bursting into white star-shells, but the May-blossom will lie as close as kernels in nuts for weeks, while the nipping, dry winds bustle over them, and then open in patches, hour by hour, all over the sweet hawthorn bush and cover it almost as suddenly as fallen snow. In the gardeners' seed trial grounds the speed of the flower growth in spring is more easily measured than among the wild blossoms. There each seed is selected, each kind kept apart, and the thousands of seeds or bulbs stored and kept at the same temperature, planted on the same day, on ground of the same level, and in earth of the same consistency, are all ready for spring to try her experiments upon. A whole bed of tulips will open into blossom on the same day, almost at the same hour, or after showing their red lips, close their covers tight when the cold sets in, and remain shut up in green cases for a week till the spring comes back again. Some flowers, again, seem to blossom by the almanac and not by the sun. Such are the horse-chestnuts, whose spikes whiten even in May frosts, and the primrose, which only gives scent when the sun warms it, but yields blossom to the bidding of mere light. But warmth, whether born of sunbeams or zephyrs, quickens the life of plants and animals as forced draught fans a furnace. Its results are so clear and visible in the speed of spring, that it is strange that the sun has not played a greater part in Nature myth and personification in temperate and Arctic lands. The earliest young plant and pnimal life in this country shows by the sides of rivers, where the earth is moist and sheltered. In this cold spring, after a week of east winds, chill rains, and boisterous weather, the riverside vegetation was almost stillborn. By the banks of the Eden, opposite Eden Hall, no spring flowers were out, the drift-wood and flotsam of the winter floods still lay in swathes where the swollen waters had laid them. No young grass had grown up through the river rack, and not a single fly of the early ephemera drifted over the face of the stream. All the trout were in the thin waters and eddies by the banks eating worms and under-water food, and scarcely able to keep themselves in condition to lie in the current at all, much less to sally boldly into mid-stream and lie by for the food floating down in mid-river. Only the coltsfoot was out on the banks, not a willow was in blossom, and the snow on Cross Fell looked like a permanent ice-cap, likely to last as long as on a Spitsbergen peak. Then came a south wind, and at noon the sun. The summons of life, colour, and movement was almost instantaneous. Flowers sprang from the earth and winged creatures from the waters, not "silently, invisibly," but visibly, and with a seeming stir and voice of awakening, and as the flowers opened and spread their arms the bees and butterflies flew into their embrace. By the strearnside, on the little steps and terraces where the floods bad laid the sand the fat domed spikes of the burdock flowers had all pushed up their heads, but kept their flowers shut. As the sunbeams warmed them each changed by magic into a cone of rich pink flower, studding the sand-strewn grass with upright pegs of blossom. On to these, and from flower to flower, flew a cloud of tortoiseshell butterflies, as if they had descended with the sunbeams. Perhaps they had been lying torpid in the hollow willows, or were there hatched from the chrysalis ; but in any case they obeyed the call, and came dancing on to the stage at the instant summons of spring. Ten minutes later the willow bloom was out, and then wheeling over the swirling river came the bumble-bees, blundering and buzzing, half-awake, to explore the blossoms, and to see if there were any newly decanted honey in them. Then came the thing that the fishermen and the trout had all been waiting for, the "rise of fly." They all came out in twenty minutes. though where they came from was not to be seen. As the banks began to steam lightly under the sun and the ripple crests flashed reflections, the "creatures of a day," the ephemera., began to float down, puffed along on light currents of air, skimming, alighting, floating, or creeping as the light airs or fancy led. They were all big stone-flies, almost as large as a cicala, black-bodied and with dark-veined wings, as if decorated by some sumptuary law of Nature, for- bidding rivalry of colour at the early season. Lastly, the trout, throwing prudence to the waves, rushed out from the banks and eddies, and from behind the stones and all the holes and corners where they had been hiding and loafing about and living meanly for a month, and began to " live " too, on the scale of trout ideals. Out in the middle of the stream, in the dancing procession of waters, they lay like a blockading fleet, and rose and seized the big stone-flies floating down, splashing and sucking and eating as noisily and un- restrainedly as only trout can.

The swift appearance of flowers and insects is perhaps the most visibly striking evidence of the speed of spring; another and less obvious accompaniment of the change of season is the swift arrival of the birds from distant Southern regions almost as soon as the spirit of spring has breathed on the Arctic snows. Among the facts which most impressed the late

Seebohm when awaiting the coming of summer on the Petchora River was the short interval between the breaking up of the winter and the arrival of birds from the far South. They came within twenty-four hours of the advent of the spring. How the birds of the South brow that the ice has broken up and spring begun on the edge of the Arctic circle, and fly there express to be in time for the opening week, has long been one of the puzzles of migration. There is a very simple solution to what otherwise seems to require a complex hypothesis of extraordinnry undiscovered powers of sense. It is the spring itself which summons them. In other words, the same rise of temperature which breaks up the ice in the far North extends at the same time for a great distance south- wards, and the birds on the lower and southern edge of this area instantly fly north through the warm zone until they either arrive at their destination, or are stopped by a fall in temperature. A real and permanent rise in temperature such as is involved in the real beginning of the Arctic spring usually extends over a very large area. This may be verified when the present cold spell breaks up by any one who will look at the Times Meteorological Reports, and compare the readings of the thermometer in London and Vienna, or by noting how far a considerable and lasting rise of the thermometer in some Scandinavian town corresponds in date with a similar rise at Paris or Marseilles. If Audubon saw aright, the Arctic spring and summer, with their continuous day, unbroken by night and cold, do not force the pace of the life of plants only, which there grow their leaves and blossoms and ripen their fruit in a season of three months in place of six. The young birds have to accommodate their rate of growth, and the old ones their nesting, to the shortness of the season. When exploring in Labrador Audubon found that some of the birds hatched on the Labrador tundra were ready for the southern migration in less time than birds bred in the temperate zone were able to gain their own living without assistance from their parents. In six weeks he saw "the eggs laid, the birds hatched, their first moult half over, and their association in flocks preparatory to leaving the country " ; and the fruits were ripe, though six weeks before the country was a sheet of snow !