There's a reason that we get winter blues and long for the season to change; days are shorter, the sun sets lower in the sky and that all-essential happy 'sunshine' vitamin D3 is in low supply. By the time February is here, it's hard to not feel like copying Yogi Bear and hibernating until it's over! But as the earth slowly tilts back on its axis towards the sun, you can feel the change in the air and there's no better place to see this transformation unfold than on a walk under the sun-dappled leafy canopy of the forest.
A hike through the winter-time forest can be a magical thing, you get a sense of being alone with nature; the branches of all but the evergreen trees have shed their glossy leaves and are mostly bare, few creatures stir in the undergrowth, the birdsong is all but silenced. But take that same walk when spring is bursting from every corner of the forest and you're plunged into a different world. Piping songs and whistles from birds fill the air, the wind rustles gently through the leaves, you may see the forest residents busy building their nests, squirrels scurrying up the trees, maybe even spot deer nibbling a leaf if you're very lucky. That sense of the forest waiting to begin again is over, spring is here and in full fling.
Bluebells in the Forest of Dean
Of course, it's not just plants and trees that are flourishing; spring brings new animal and bird life to the world too, it's a time when nature wakes up and shakes off all traces of the dark days of winter. Back in pagan times, spring was seen as a potent time in our calendar with celebrations and offerings held to gods and goddesses of fertility. Wobble-kneed baby lambs and calves fill the fields, the sun stays around for just that bit longer each day, green buds pop on every bush and tree and finally those bright daffodils and primroses push through the cold soil to burst open and tell us that warm days and long light nights are on their way.
That sense that the whole world is born anew has given spring tremendous significance in many of the world's religions from Christianity to Hinduism too. Across Thailand and India spring collides with their New Year, bringing colourful harvest festivals that last for days. Following the lead of Japan, countries with cherry or apple trees celebrate the all-too-brief flowering season of the pink and white pom-pom flowers with 'sakura' festivals; a chance to appreciate the beauty of these blossoms before they fade away just a few short weeks after they bloom.
It's that swift-changing side of nature that makes spring so fascinating to witness. Over the space of a few days, you can see a plant or tree go from sprouting tightly-furled buds to displaying bold bright flowers. Part of the adventure lies in wondering what you'll discover next, guessing what colour that tree might be tomorrow, or whether those curious-looking green buds will suddenly burst into stunning bloom.
But whether a country celebrates spring with a jewelled elephant or by writing blossom-inspired Haiku, what unites all cultures is the sense of renewal and celebration of life that spring brings and a desire to reflect on what lies ahead in this new season... and where better to do that than surrounded by wild nature within the heart of the forest?
Yellow Pimpernels in the Forest
As the fresh leaves sprout on the trees, newly-hatched caterpillars feed on the soft new growth and, in turn, then become dinner themselves for the returning migratory birds!
Seaweed lives its life in tune with the seasons. One of the world's fastest-growing plants, it starts growing on the winter solstace of December 21st and begins reproducing after the spring equinox.
1. China's Qing Ming festival is a time to enjoy the greenery; people fly animal-shaped kites and sweep clean their ancestor's graves.
2. Clouds of scented coloured powder fill the air for the Hindu spring festival of Holi and people dance around bonfires to music.
3. The new season maple syrup is collected from the trees and families gather in the forests to eat Quebecoise feasts in Sugar Shacks in Canada.
4. Winter is burned in Zurich for the Sächsilüüte festival, where a snowman effigy, stuffed with fireworks is tossed on a bonfire.
5. In Poland, spring is welcomed in by Śmigus Dyngus, 'wet Monday' where it's traditional to throw water over someone that you like.