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The Sunflower Hill Chronicles, Part 3: The Turning

By Birgitta Jansen

March 20, 2022

As I set out on Campground Trail, I stop for a moment to look up at the sky. Thick, heavy cumulus clouds are gathering, leaving only small patches of blue sky still visible. Although here the temperature is a few degrees above freezing, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was snowing in the high country.

Snow-capped mountains rise behind a bare hill with houses in the foreground
The view from Sunflower Hill looking east. Photo credit: Birgitta Jansen

I resume my walk while contemplating the significance of this day; the Vernal Equinox. “Vernal” comes from the Latin word ver,meaning Spring; vernalis means “of the Spring.” “Equinox” also has Latin roots and is based on the word aequus, which means “equal,” and nox translates to “night.“ Today, day and night are of equal length all over the globe—a rare moment of planetary unity.

It is interesting to reflect on why we have seasons. The Earth’s axis—from the North Pole to the South Pole—is slightly tilted. This tilt is always maintained as the Earth rotates around its axis while it revolves around the sun. A rotation always lasts 24 hours and the orbit around the sun takes 365.24 days. As Earth journeys around the sun, it is the tilt that determines how much sunlight the hemispheres receive. If the Northern Hemisphere is leaning away from the sun, the days grow shorter and temperatures drop. We certainly know what that’s like. Meanwhile, those in the Southern Hemisphere are enjoying their summer time. Eventually our turn comes. Starting today, the days will grow longer and light and warmth will awaken the land.

Without the tilt, the sun would shine for 12 hours every day everywhere on the planet. Without the seasons, there would be less species diversity. In fact, some scientists speculate that life might not exist at all.

And what caused the tilt to begin with? Let your mind go back approximately 4 billion years when there was a lot of activity in our solar system. There were many collisions, including some really big ones. A number of significant blows knocked Earth off kilter, and we’re still living with the consequences.

I decide to go up to Sunflower Hill via Duck Pond Trail. Today the trail is like walking on a mix of mud and heaps of powdered sugar. I was hoping that being in a more wooded area would protect me a bit from today’s energetic wind, but that was not to be. I hear powerful waves of wind travel up the St. Mary Valley as each gust forcefully and loudly hits the next section of trees. The ebb and flow rhythm of this progression of sound is reminiscent of vigorous ocean waves. The Ponderosa pines (Pinus Ponderosa) that dominate the Sunflower Hill landscape are swaying in the powerful currents of air as the wind sends ripples through their branches as if stroked by an invisible hand.

On Duck Pond Trail prior to reaching Sunflower Hill, there is a tangle of treefall. The Kimberley Trails Maintenance volunteers have already done their work and created a pathway so that the trees that succumbed to winter conditions no longer block the trail.

Trees that fell across a snow-covered trail have been sawed in half to leave a gap through which walkers and cyclists can pass
Tangle of treefall. Photo credit: Birgitta Jansen

Once I’m on the Sunflower Hill Trail, I check the pussy willows and notice what I did not notice last time: there are many broken ends of branches on most of the willows. Hungry deer? Would they eat the ends of willow branches? Or perhaps a few people anxious to have a sign of spring in a vase on their kitchen table? Who knows; I couldn’t tell. The imprints in the snow weren’t clear.

When I’ve come out into the open area, the wind really hits. There is no escape. A meteorologist once told me that wind is nature’s way of balancing the atmosphere. I think about that description as I lean into to this formidable force while at times hardly able to maintain my own balance. There are times when wind manifests in a pure, unapologetic force that one can only endure, perhaps marvel at, and accept.

There has been considerable melting on the hill where the snow not that long ago covered the brown, matted grasses, bare twigs and branches of shrubs. I hasten down the old road until I abruptly stop when my attention is caught by a little shape that doesn’t look familiar. It turns out to be a battered little skull approximately 7 cm (2 ¾ inches) front to back. I puzzle over it but cannot determine with certainty what this might be. Most likely, I suspect, it is the skull of a rabbit.

A small skull, perhaps of a rabbit, rests in the snow
A wild animal’s life is not always easy. Photo credit: Birgitta Jansen

The Vernal Equinox; new life is emerging. But here I see the remainder of a little life now gone as it provided nutrients to others still living. It’s the cycle of life; the turning continues…


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