Meanwhile, here in the Dartmoor Diary, March brings swayling… controlled fires lit to burn off the gorse and let new grass grow from beneath. So burned and black at first you can’t believe it will ever grow again. In the wind the fires often grow hot and huge, the flames bright against the sky. You gasp if you have to walk through the smoke. The Welsh call this harsh wind the wind from the feet of the dead and whatever it touches it fiercely grips hold of. It carried the smells of burn on different days from the recent swayling on Hameldown, Corndon Tor and Wind Tor when smoke billowed along the horizons like a series of wild-fires. Charred patches of moorland are difficult to distinguish from cloud shadows cast like dread across the high moors. But afterwards, Dartmoor ponies wander among the burned area and seem to get nourishment from the char, their muzzles and legs blackened.
March 20th is the Vernal Equinox, the night when night and day are equal in length, ushering in Spring in the Northern Hemisphere. The first day of Spring however depends on where you live: the moment when the Sun crosses over the equator will occur at 5:14 a.m. GMT. This translates to 10:14 p.m. PDT on March 19 for those on the West Coast of North America.
The two very prominent stars, one being yellowy-orange and the other white-ish, one above the other are Venus and Jupiter. They were closing in on each other until March 13th after which they started inching apart. Orion, distinctive in his hunter’s belt, chases them across the sky and each night they dip down over the horizon, one behind the other, before midnight, never letting him catch up.
Also on the ground there are signs of spring…ants seething in their pine needle nests – so many it looks like a battle – how do they know what they’re doing? and yet, I believe that they do know and it’s entirely constructive; woodpeckers rattling; small tadpoles swimming in shallow pools, so many of them the water rocks as my shadow passes over them; leaf buds thickening like bird song on hazel twigs; showers of catkins, swaying but never falling; wood sorrel leaves breaking through the leaf litter (try eating them, the taste of spring); dog’s mercury swaying in the breeze; wood anemones leaves along the paths… yet I spotted some early flowers growing on a log fallen across the river; primroses with their lime green faces; bluebell leaves spearing their way to the light through old leaves; celandines like yellow stars; rare coltsfoot in dry places reminding me of my childhood.