Signal Moments

Signal Moments

This post is contributed by Barnaby Porter from his archives. Read the previous post here.


Waiting for spring to come is in many ways similar to watching a pot put on to boil. There’s the long period of finger drumming, of looking and listening for sure signs that something’s happening. But spring itself is more like the cat at the door; it’ll come in when it’s good and ready and not a minute sooner. You can stand there half your life holding the door open. Long waits can get pretty maddening though, and many’s the cat who’s had a door slammed in its face for taking too long.

And that’s what happens in the month of March; folks get just plain antsy, waiting. They’ve had enough of it. Meanwhile, the yard is filling up with mud, and things around the place never looked worse.

The reality is, spring will come just as certainly as that cat will come in the door, in its own sweet time, in its own way. A glance out the door will see the smile on its face, anticipating the moment. And there usually is a particular event, a “smile” of sorts, that ushers in spring, an event that signals, “It’s here! There’s no turning back!” For each of us, it might be a different moment, a different event, but the effect is the same; the message is: “The wait is over!”

Being an optimist, for me it was this early March morning. I walked outside after breakfast to a loud chorus of red-wing blackbirds. Instantly, I heard their gravelly calls in the trees overhead and knew them for what they were and what they meant. Their arrival for the season, to me, is all the encouragement anyone needs to consider clambering to the rooftop to shout the news.

Another signal moment takes place the day the chipmunks thaw out. It’s almost like a hatch of insects around here. They come out of hibernation in droves and are so hungry they go quite nuts for a few days. Their appearance is a pretty solid sign that something seasonal is afoot.

Of course, there are those moments of seeing the first crocus and the first robin on the lawn. They’re good ones. Geese will appear overhead any day now, and in two or three weeks’ time, I’ll hear a woodcock down back, and the first peepers. Any of these events, for those who are alert to such things, will become one of those signal moments that bring us spring.

But there is one more I feel is important. It’s the moment that says more forcefully than any other that gentler days are in the offing; it is when the mourning cloak butterfly makes its first flight on a warm March day. Almost too soon, it always seems, but then that’s how spring is. Like the cat plucking a tune on the screen door, it’ll come in when the mood moves it.


Barnaby PorterArtist and author Barnaby Porter has had a varied career in marine research, aquaculture, and woodworking, among others. Most recently he partnered with his wife Susan as co-owners of the Maine Coast Book Shop & Cafe in downtown Damariscotta. In October 2021, Barnaby completed his tenure on Coastal Rivers’ Board of Trustees after six years of service.

Mourning Cloak Butterfly image by AfroBrazilian, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons