Growing up in Michigan, Easter almost always arrived during the first full blush of spring. Our side garden would be alive with daffodils and pastel tulips; our Easter outfits were worn with light jackets and dress shoes. That is decidedly not the case here on the Northern Plains.
We’ve had multiple Easter blizzards during my decade on the ranch, and unless it’s a drought year, no one is surprised when the Easter egg hunt in town gets moved inside because there’s too much snow on the ground. Here, if you want to show off your fancy dress shoes at Sunday services, you usually need to wear winter boots and change in the mudroom at church.
The connections between our Easter traditions and the first weeks of warm weather were so obvious to my child self, I barely even noticed them. Of course, Easter decorations featured spring flowers and Easter dresses were short-sleeved. Of course, the colored cellophane “grass” in our Easter baskets was green. In southern Michigan, outdoor Easter hunts were only canceled on account of rain.
It wasn’t until I had chickens of my own that I began to understand some of the other associations. Hens start laying more frequently with the return of longer days, so the spring equinox is when we usually expect our egg supply to shift from a trickle to a steady stream.
Every morning my daughter goes out with a small wicker basket to collect eggs from the coop, and it never ceases to tickle me that it looks like she’s carrying an Easter basket when she returns, right down to the multi-colored eggs nestled therein, as we selected our hens for color variety.
The themes of rebirth, renewal and new life that are part of Easter traditions are even more relevant when you make your living working in agriculture, and they feel especially poignant after the kind of epically long, harsh winters we regularly experience here. However, the fact that spring may actually not have sprung when Easter arrives is, well, often a pretty big bummer.
Long hard winter
This year was shaping up to be one of those late springs. Less than a week before Easter we were prepping for yet another blizzard. The drifts of snow in the yard were still packed hard and deep, and most of them had been around since the first storm just before the winter solstice. But suddenly, almost unbelievably, on Easter morning that was all behind us. There was no mistaking it — winter was over.
I recently heard someone describe a difficult time in her life that resulted in personal growth this way: “I wouldn’t call it a gift, because I wouldn’t give it to you … but I’m thankful for it nonetheless.” Waking on Easter morning to a yard full of birds singing, the smell of wet mud from the snow melting, the whole prairie singing a hymn of thanksgiving, I felt the same way.
Somehow we made it through; spring had arrived overnight, and the beauty — the sublime, awe-inspiring beauty of spring— was made infinitely richer by experiencing the length and breadth of a winter like the one we’d just endured. I wouldn’t wish for another winter like that anytime soon, but I don’t remember ever appreciating the splendor of a seasonal change more than I am right now.
As I write this, I am sitting on the porch with my laptop. I can hear the mama cows out in the pasture talking to their calves, a woodpecker in the tree break looking for supper, a flock of geese honking over my head, and the robins serenading each other with their evening melodies. The dogs are sleeping by my feet on the cement that’s suddenly barren of snow for the first time in almost four months.
The sun is setting and there’s still a chill in the air, but I don’t want to go in yet. Instead, I’m going to sit here a little longer, and listen to my other-than-human neighbors going about their business now that we are all liberated from dens, barns and houses. It’s good to be back together again.
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