Up for a little word association game?

March … Forced.

March … Death.

March … Madness.

OK, this is not helping — although we figure that the “madness” response is more about the national college basketball playoffs than our mental state.


March is the month that reveals our essential character. After weeks of winter, we’re faced with what’s known as Minnesota’s snowiest month, the daunting finale of a very long opera. The lady in the puffy parka has sung, and we’re just waiting for the chorus’ last crescendo. Our applause will be polite but muted, muffled by mittens to discourage any encores.

Yet March also means that winter is on the wane. A vaguely familiar tune moves into our heads. Its notes are brighter than winter’s low lullaby, each week humming at a slightly faster tempo. As impossible as it seems, the accelerando to spring has begun.

Several springs, actually. On March 1, meteorological spring arrived, from a concept that divides the year into neat quarters by temperature, which means that the coldest quarter is over. On the 20th, we’ll mark astronomical spring, the calendar’s “first day.” This is the vernal equinox, when the sun’s position makes day and night of equal length.

Well and good. But for a surefire sign of spring, consider this: Daylight saving time begins March 9.

Of course, for those of us here in the nation’s northern reaches, this shift means only that the ferocious blizzards linked by lore to the state high school athletic tournaments have one more hour of daylight during which highways are invisible.

There is one more “spring” that appears this month, and that is the particularly hallowed one associated with “break.”

Planning for the future

Spring break is the week parents firmly declared off-limits as schools began trying to make up snow days without elementary teachers having to also think up a Father’s Day craft.

Scheduled toward the end of the month, spring break can be transformational. You leave school in white and gray March, then return in a less-white and less-gray April. Baby steps.

Plans for the summer begin in earnest. Boundary Waters maps are unfolded once more and a put-in point finally agreed upon. Reservations at lake resorts are confirmed. Owners of lake cabins start fielding broad hints from landlocked friends. Save-the-date postcards begin arriving for class reunions.

Phone calls with relatives take on a thrust-and-parry vibe as negotiations ensue for who is traveling where, and when, and for how long. (Gosh, are you sure you can spare a whole three-day weekend to visit Mom?)

March is when serious gardeners start their summer’s produce under grow lights, burying minuscule seeds in a moist mix of compost and vermiculite. In the midst of a blizzard, which is likely, the sight of an eggplant shoot, its pair of leaves unfurling like a handlebar mustache, brings particular hope.

We begin thinking of the future instead of wallowing in the present. Those who embrace winter with their whole beings start to feel a bit poignant about the shift, even though this has been a highly satisfying winter — for those who embrace winter.

On an especially sunny afternoon, if there’s no wind, you can pull a lawn chair off the hook in the garage and sit in the driveway, basking in the sudden warmth, squinting at twigs bumpled with buds and breathing air that suddenly smells, if not yet like spring, less like winter.