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WHEN WINTER ARRIVES, CAN SPRINGTIME BE FAR BEHIND?

SHARE WHEN WINTER ARRIVES, CAN SPRINGTIME BE FAR BEHIND?

Spring comes this week. Just after dark on Wednesday, Dec. 21, at exactly 6:21. How can this be? According to the Old Farmer's Almanac, spring isn't due until late March. But I don't go by the book on this matter. A soft alarm sounds in my soul at winter solstice - the longest night of the year is past. I know the Earth has tilted as far as it will, and from now on, there will be more light and longer days in my corner of the universe. Yes!

This inner celebration is older than Christmas - deeper than civilization. It's a primal response on that spiritual plane where matter and energy and light converge with mystery into life.I am not the only living thing tuned to this turning. Check the trees now - their limbs already bear translucent green buds or soft woolly bumps. Dig a bulb from the ground. Cut it open. You will find the swollen juiciness of germination there already. The push toward light and flower is under way.

The gravid wombs of mammals are in mid-production now. In the bellies of hibernating she-bears, cubs are nearing term. Spring lambs and calves and fawns are in utero, even as their mothers paw at snow, seeking food. People, too - young mothers' winter coats bulge and strain at middle buttons as the rising results of summer love begin to show.

Everywhere I walk in this dreary season, I notice the tenacity and fecundity of life. In the grass in the cracks in the sidewalk. In the patchy little independent gardens that grow untended around the tarry base of telephone poles. In the ivy hanging low over freeway walls. In the potting sheds and cold frames of gardeners, where mulch is warming, the earthworms working and the seeds fracturing with inner urgency. On indoor windowsills, where Narcissuses lift their first green tips, simultaneously lifting the spirits of those who force spring into early declaration.

This is not the dead of winter. No. This is the rebirth of spring. This is the sharp green edge of invincible life slicing through darkness once again. Power beyond our understanding musters its marching band for the full dress parade of April. Take heart!

Nothing can stop life. At the Trinity Site in New Mexico, where once there was only fire and then molten shards of fused glass, the cactus, mesquite and grass grow again. In the mountains of Nevada, bristlecone pines stand firm through their 2,000th year. They, too, ready fresh needles now.

The fossil record is very clear: Unbelievable varieties of life have persevered here under every condition imaginable. Life has been here for 4.5 million years. With another 7.5 million years to go - until the Earth falls into the sun. And I believe that when life ceases here, it will continue elsewhere in other places in other forms. Even now, this must be so.

And I am part of this - as a fish is part of the sea, surrounded and filled.

On Wednesday, like the Earth, I, too, will tilt - away from death. I have survived whatever darkness has dished out this year and am ready and eager to come to life again. Now I, too, will reach for revival. Daily, I must get up and go to work in the construction business of building and repairing and remodeling my life.

As with the trees, I want to drop the leaves of the past, cast off the dry twigs of yesterday and become green once more. As with the trees, I shall shove my roots deeper this year. I want my imagination to flower and my work to bear fruit.

This renewal begins for me on the morning of Thursday, Dec. 22. I right myself to spin again toward larger days and shorter nights - toward a revival of spirit and a rebirth of wonder. Something ancient and deep stirs itself in me, and my face turns toward the sun.

Come on, light! Rise up, sap! Let the memory of the music return. My instrument is ready. In the midst of winter comes the urge to play once more in the invincible marching band of spring.