Sunday, March 1, 2020

With The Blare of Heaven's Trumpets

The Memorial Garden - Blackwater Creek Trail, Lynchburg, VA

"March begins with the blare of heaven's trumpets. Wind stirred into life by the radiant warmth of the young sun, lashes the budding trees.  As if in keeping with March's martial airs, the night sky announces Auriga, the charioteer. Auriga clatters across the northern skies behind a team of goats led by Capela, a bright star thought by the Greeks to be Almathea, the young she-goat who suckled Zeus as a baby. Young Zeus, unaware of his strength, reached out to grasp Almathea's horn and snapped it off. As reparation, he transformed her lost horn into a magical endless source of food and drink, the cornucopia.

The month's old Saxon name was Hrethmonath, "rough month", after the boisterous winds. The Dutch called it Lentmaand, "the time of Lent". In more ancient days March's winds competed with the bray of martial trumpets which signaled the start of Roman military operations after a winter hiatus and still bears the name of the god of war, mighty, merciless, Mars.

Roman tradition held that Mars with the father of Romulus, and actually instructed him in the creation of the first Roman calendar. Romulus then honored his father by making his month the first of the year. Since the Romans prided themselves on being a nation of sturdy farmers, Mars was also the patron saint of those who tilled the land.

The month and all born in it belonged to that terrible god, who blood red planet was said to drive men to carnage.  The Compost of Ptholomeus, and early almanac from the Middle Ages, claims that unto Mars . . .

"is borne thieves and robbers, nyght walkers and quarrel pikers, boasters, mockers and scoffers and these men of Mars causer war and murther and battle. They will be gladly smythes or workers of iyron, lyers, great swearers."

For a long time, as we have seen, the Roman's celebrated their new year not on the first of January, but in March. Spring had come, and the sere days of winter were already fading into memory. During March the lambs arrived, quivering with hope, and the planting that would bring the next year's harvest was cast into the fields. The arrival of March was good news.

The murder of Julius Caesar changed all that, and gave March a bloody hue. After the assassination, its ides, the fifteenth, became, and thanks largely to William Shakespeare, remains an uneasy watchword for imminent danger.

March is a time of delayed pleasure. Spring still dances over the distant hills, taunting those who have kept faith in spite of all appearances. The month opens in wintry Lenten gloom, but soon seems to soften towards Easter. River ice melts and robins return. The whispered promise of the sun at winter solstice takes full voice as the creeks slowly thaw, and the hard loam melts into butter. Then, suddenly, a bitter wind kills early buds, and the lakes which seemed only days away from welcoming swimmers, harden with new ice. March tests our faith. It can summon all the bluster of its namesake to convince huddled mortals, that the power of winter, like that of any tyrant, is not soon or lightly surrendered. On a night in late March the wind can blow with a force unfelt all winter. Fear not. Beneath the angry skies fragile as parchment but irresistible as time crocuses push their shafts up through the damp earth."

from The Dance of Time
by Michael Judge

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