Nothing signifies spring quite like blossom mixed with birdsong

It’s long been hard to find an image for the peculiar intensity of spring

A A A

If we were looking, in the great tradition of modern advertising, for simple, instantly-graspable signifiers for the seasons, we would doubtless characterise summer by sunshine, autumn by falling leaves and winter by snow.

They would be universally accepted, would they not?  But spring is a tad more complicated. Any ideas?

Ultimately, I suppose, we would have to say “new life”, because after all, that’s what the word means, the beautiful word which we so take for granted: things springing up everywhere. But it’s trickier to find the specific image for springtime’s essence, which is that new life’s peculiar intensity, for a short period.

However, I thought I might have found it a few days ago, spending the weekend in Normandy. It’s a very green part of the world, is Normandy, with plenty of rain, as it’s in the same oceanic climate zone as Devon and Dorset, which it strongly resembles: in effect, it’s Wessex-over-the-water. Same pastoral landscapes, cathedral towns. Though there are differences.

One I noticed was the cowslips. Writing about cowslips verges on the comical, as they sound so old-fashioned-countryside you might almost be writing about milkmaids, and throw in an ooh-arr or two while you’re at it. But there was no getting away from them: they were there in their countless millions.

In Britain, I think of cowslips as flowers of fields and meadows, but last week in France I did not see a single cowslip in a field – some French plant ecologist could no doubt tell me why –  although I saw numberless field dandelions and buttercups; instead, the cowslips covered the roadside banks.

In the 20 miles from the small cathedral town of Sées, to Mortagne-au-Perche (world capital of the black pudding!), they intermittently lined the route, and then in the countryside south of Mortagne, where we were staying – the lovely, wooded region of The Perche, known to few Brits – they just carpeted every verge in golden yellow. Other good stuff was appearing in the roadside verges too, the pale mauve petals of lady’s smock, the white stars of stitchwort, the first dark spikes of early purple orchids; but what impressed me most was the blossom.

Normandy is a land of fruit trees, and even though, after a March which was as wintry there as here, the pink-and-white apple blossom is still not out, the pure white cherry and plum blossom was spectacular. The old farmhouse where we were staying had a mini-orchard of 14 trees and the branches were, as AE Housman famously said of his own cherry tree, “hung with snow”.

Yet there was another great blossoming, too, and that was in sound: the birdsong was fabulous, and we woke to a chorus of blackbirds and song thrushes, robins, wrens and chaffinches, but best of all, a blackcap. This is a wee warbler, as I find myself being drawn into saying, a bird I have written about here before because it has started to winter in Britain, and it has the most mellifluous, melodious song you can imagine: some people prefer it to the nightingale.

The blackcap sang unseen in the garden, mainly from deep in a hedge, but on Sunday morning it began to sing, still unseen, from the most gloriously blossoming of all the cherry trees. I was struck dumb with delight.  Here was this God-given, breathtaking tree, and now it seemed to be making a God-given, breathtaking sound.

I had one of those moments when something dawned on me – aren’t we meant to call them epiphanies, these days? – and it was that I was witnessing the very heart of spring.  Blossom with birdsong.

So, for three of the seasons, easy, familiar signifiers: sunshine, falling leaves, snow. But for springtime, the most stirring of them all, something more singular to symbolise it: birdsong with blossom.

Twitter: @mjpmccarthy

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Pupils educated at schools like Eton (pictured) are far more likely to succeed in politics and the judiciary, the report found
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash
tvSimon Cowell blasts BBC for breaking 'gentlemen's agreement' in scheduling war
News
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
people
News
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Sport
footballAnd Liverpool are happy despite drawing European champions
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Diana from the Great British Bake Off 2014
tvProducers confirm contestant left because of illness
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
tv
Life and Style
fashion

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Client-Side web developer (JQuery, Javascript, UI, JMX, FIX)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Client-Side web developer (JQuery, Javascript, U...

Structured Finance

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - An excellent new instruction w...

SQL Server Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Server Developer SQL, PHP, C#, Real Time,...

C#.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: C#.NET Developer C#, Win Forms, WPF, WCF, MVVM...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone