The colours of early spring

Buttercups (Photo by Brynn Bellingham/NCC staff)

Buttercups (Photo by Brynn Bellingham/NCC staff)

April 26, 2019 | by Brynn Bellingham

It finally feels like that time of year. One that we here in Canada are so familiar with: warmer days, more sunlight and melting snow. But how do we really know that spring has sprung?

Rather than waiting to see a groundhog’s shadow, I like to keep a close eye on nature to tell me when it’s safe to stow my boots and unpack my sandals. It’s tricky business, though. We’ve all experienced the disappointment when you break out the garden hose a bit too early or stash the hats and gloves only to wish you had them while scraping ice off your car for the last time.

So when can we pack away the wool sweaters and celebrate? When should we hold off for one final flurry of snow to blow through?

My personal guide to giving in to that warm rush of springtime joy is a combination of three specific colours: yellow, green and blue.

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Bring on the buttercups

You may have already encountered these unassuming yellow flowers blooming close to the ground. Almost plastic-looking, they’re somewhat prehistoric, compared to the showier specimens we typically favour. But these hardy little blossoms from the buttercup or Ranunculus family are one of nature’s early risers. They often fight their way through snow so they can reach for that new spring sunlight.

Next time you’re walking your dog along a river or strolling through light tree cover, look down at your feet for tiny flecks of yellow. They pop up early, but the rest of spring’s colours won’t be far behind!

Budding prospects

Willow bud (Photo by velodenz CC BY-NC-ND-2.0)

Willow bud (Photo by velodenz CC BY-NC-ND-2.0)

The second colour on my list is the early glow of bright “Nature Conservancy of Canada-green,” as I like to think of it. But specifically, it's the leafy slivers peeking out between brown branches. At first, you must look closely. Gently grab a branch — willows are especially vibrant early bloomers — and feel for the alternating knobs of soon-to-be leaves. Check between those brown scales for your first flash of green.

It won’t take long for those buds to shoot beyond their scales. Once you can drive past a small group of willows and see that verdant glow from the car, you'll know that spring has a toehold!

It’s a…bird!

Mountain bluebird (Photo by M.A. Bellingham)

Mountain bluebird (Photo by M.A. Bellingham)

Rounding out this list is my favourite spring colour. It comes from a long-standing tradition in my family: it is not truly spring until someone has spotted the first bright streak of a bluebird whizzing by. After a winter in Mexico, staying warm but competing for food, they journey north in just a few weeks.

Against an early spring backdrop of marbled tawny-brown shades, bluebirds are striking, seeming more azure than anything in nature could possibly be. In my mind, bluebirds brighten the fence posts just to proclaim, "Winter is gone for good!” Not exactly rigorous compared with the other two, but trust me, once those bluebirds arrive, spring is here to stay. 

Brynn Bellingham (Photo by NCC)

About the Author

Brynn Bellingham works for NCC's Alberta Region as a development officer for grant programs.

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