Chasing Spring by Bruce Stutz


chasing_spring_stutzAh Spring! The days are noticeably longer and the birds sing louder. Everyone knows the feeling of that first warm day after a long winter. It is no wonder that the coming of spring has been celebrated in so many cultures for so many centuries.

Bruce Stutz, the former editor-in-chief of Natural History magazine, has good reason to be inspired to write about the feeling of renewal in springtime. He undergoes surgery to repair a heart valve in the winter, and as he recovers and his energy increases, he decides to embark on a trip that will take him through the country to witness spring as it arrives in different regions and climates. His plan is to begin in the Northeast and finish on the last day of spring at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) – a day when the sun does not set in the Arctic Circle. To travel “from equinox to solstice.” The book is a lovely exploration of cultural history, nature, and renewal, but also focuses on the theme of climate change and the warming of the planet.

Mr. Stutz’s story is told in a diary format and is part travelogue, part natural history and part personal narrative. Each entry sets the scene with the date, hours, and minutes of daylight.

GroundhogThe story of spring actually begins in the winter. On February 2nd (10 hours, 9 minutes of daylight) the author travels to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to celebrate one of the early rituals of the coming spring – Groundhog Day. February 2nd is the approximate midpoint between the first day of winter and the first day of spring, and he describes various historical rituals surrounding the date. It is the day the ancient Celts considered to be the first day of spring, and it is the day of the ancient Christian celebration of Candlemas. The folk saying surrounding Candlemas (which foreshadows the Groundhog himself) goes as follows:

If Candlemas day be fair and bright, winter will have another flight. If Candlemas day be shower and rain, winter is gone and will not come again.

Along his journey, the author stops to speak with scientists, naturalists, and guides about the area he is visiting. On the first day of spring, March 21, (12 hours, 12 minutes of daylight) he is hiking in the Connecticut woods and talking about vernal pools and amphibians with a herpetologist, who begins to think “salamander thoughts” starting sometime in February when the sunlight increases. The vernal pools – temporary pools created by snow melt and spring rain – are crucial to salamanders and frogs for egg laying.

In Arizona on April 19, (13 hours 6 minutes of daylight) the author observes spring in the Sonoran Desert and talks about the “nectar corridor” with a local scientist. As desert plants like cactus flowers and the ocotillo bloom, birds, butterflies, insects and bats follow the blossoming flowers for nectar along their migration routes.

On May 10, (14 hours, 12 minutes daylight) he is in Boulder, Colorado with scientists from the National Snow and Ice Data Center who study the cryosphere, or the frozen water part of the earth system. The scientists take depth measurements of Rocky Mountain snow, and the author joins them while trying to deal with the physical effects of the altitude. Here he discusses the “albedo” or surface reflectivity of the planet. The whiteness of the planet’s snow and ice coverage affect how much sunlight is absorbed, and therefore how quickly melting occurs, which in turn affects the energy balance of the planet.

The author crosses the continental divide, stops at the Great Salt Lake, and joins people who pick mushrooms in the Oregon Cascades and who depend on certain weather conditions in spring to find morels and boletes.

Arctic National Wildlife RefugeIn June the author flies to Alaska where he joins the bush pilots who will take him to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge where, starting on June 6th there are 24 hours of daylight for several weeks, and the sun appears to circle the sky. The light-filled vast region of ANWR, where the author observes caribou, Dall sheep, bears, and Arctic Terns, is a fitting culmination to his journey.

I read this book in late winter, as I anticipated the coming of spring in my own corner of the world. I enjoyed traveling along vicariously, and reading about spring in all of the other beautiful places the author describes. I also appreciated the writing which was a complementary mix of the scientific and poetic.

Mr. Stutz writes near the end of the book:

Each day I watched light and saw it transmute into structures that, breath by minuscule breath, synthesize the earth’s food and by their infinitesimal exhalations create its atmosphere. I’ve fallen in love with the spring of my own being.

Welcome spring!

Chasing Spring: An American Journey Through a Changing Season. Stutz, Bruce.
Call # 508.2 Stu Browsing Collection – Level 3

For other seasonal reading try:

Summer world: a season of bounty. Heinrich, Bernd.
Call # 591.43 Hei Browsing Collection – Level 3

Bayshore summer : finding Eden in a most unlikely place. Dunne, Pete.
Call # J508.749 D923 Jerseyana-ask Librarian

Arctic Autumn : a journey to season’s edge. Dunne, Pete.
Call # 508.3 DUN Browsing Collection – Level 3

Fallscaping : extending your garden season into autumn. Ondra, Nancy J.
Call # 635.953 Ond Browsing Collection – Level 3

Winter world: the ingenuity of animal survival. Heinrich, Bernd.
Call # 591.43 Hei Browsing Collection – Level 3