March 20 was the first day of spring, the season when life renews itself, and invites us to renew our lives too. In ancient Roman mythology, Flora is the goddess of spring. (Think of flowers.) One of the most famous paintings of her is in Botticelli’s Primavera (Spring).As I write this, I look out a window at a nature preserve behind my house in North Haven. I anticipate what I’ve experienced each year, the barren trees turning light green with the first leaves of spring, and flowers growing all over the meadow on which the trees are found. In fact, in Botticelli’s painting, Flora’s gown has flowers on it. Each spring, I like to wander in nature preserves and other natural areas and look at the flowers and new, light-green leaves — natural beauty at one of its brightest points. It is the season in which animals mate, and soon I will see babies of different species as I walk through wooded areas, the largest of them, and therefore the most conspicuous of them, being deer.
Not long ago in rural areas of the U.S., some people used to light bonfires on the night before the first day of spring. Light and warmth to greet longer and warmer days. Great for farming. And great for all of us to be outdoors, and to be anticipating the even longer and warmer days of summer. The longest day or the year is the Summer Solstice on June 21, the end of spring and the first day of summer. Psychologists tell us longer days, i.e., more time of light, make us sleep better at night, feel less depressed, more alert, more energetic, and make us think more clearly. Alfred Tennyson wrote that, “In the spring a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of love.” And it is also true that for people of all ages, in the spring their thoughts turn to love of life in general.
In ancient Greek mythology, Persephone was the goddess of spring. She is depicted in art of the time as a good-looking young woman, frequently carrying in her hand seeds that she is distributing over the land. Typically in art, she represents happiness that winter it gone. On one piece of sculpture dating from the fifth century B.C., Demeter, the goddess of bread, is sitting holding three ears of corn, and her daughter, Persephone, is standing with lit torches – a contrast between the long nights and agricultural barrenness of winter and the long days and agricultural life of spring.
In Homer’s Odyssey,Persephone, and her husband, the god, Hades, speak about how precious life is as we know it, even to privileged gods who are immortal in another world:
O shinning Odysseus, never try to console me for dying
I rather would follow the plough as thrall to another
man, one with no land allotted to him and not much to live on,
than be a king over all the perished dead.
So I am grateful that I have lived into old age, and I cherish my life and the lives of people I love, and also those who are no longer alive. Spring makes all of this more poignant.
As William Barclay said, “There are two great days in a person’s life — the day we are born and the day we discover why.” We can fulfill this in pursuing Socrates’ truth as we walk throughthe life and light of spring: “Wisdom begins in wonder.”
May I never cease to wonder and seek understanding however long or short is the rest of my life.
RICHARD GAMBINO loves looking at the many photographs he’s taken of nature in all seasons.