In a gentler, metaphor-friendlier time, spring was the season in which "the sap" was said to rise in young men, a euphemistic condition soon followed by another that afflicted both sexes equally: spring fever. That annual pandemic remains stubbornly resistant to a cure, although now that science has laid its clammy hand on our overheated brow, it appears spring fever may have more to do with rising levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin than sap.
The first day of spring is a harbinger of happiness unrivaled by any other date on the calendar. At the vernal equinox, which arrives locally at 4:02 a.m. Wednesday, day and night are almost equally divided. But each new day, from now until the summer solstice, will bring a few more minutes of sunlight into our lives, and put a welcome spring in our step.
So, welcome, spring! When:
Now that "Girls Gone Wild" has gone belly up (to name one of the soft-core videos' less frequently deployed body parts), spring break could once again become more about splashing than flashing. Still, sex will always be one of the rites of spring. A circadian rhythm section of experts has declared spring a peak period for skyrocketing sperm counts in men and ovulation overdrive in women. No wonder spring is the leading season for unplanned pregnancies. All that heedless behavior may account for spring's paradoxical downside: People are more likely to commit suicide during this season than any other.
"People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball," Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby once moaned. "I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring." To create its own false spring, Major League Baseball teams begin training in Florida or Arizona in February.
Even clocks seem to recognize that we are entering a season of hope, making their annual "spring forward," only to meekly retreat an hour in the dwindling daylight of autumn. "You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming," wrote the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Scientists have identified a climate-change phenomenon known as "season creep," which suggests you also can't keep spring from coming a little earlier every year.
"Actually, the first day of spring was March 1," says meteorologist Jan Null. "The equinox is astronomical spring, when we have equal night and day. But from a meteorological point of view, spring is March, April and May." And the meteorological outlook, Null says, is for an astronomically rainy day.
OK, Mr. Buzzkill. As equinoxes go, vernal is still nothing to sneeze at -- unless spring has triggered your hay fever. "Ancient people thought the sun god was spending more time with them because they had made the right kinds of sacrifices," says Andrew Fraknoi, a professor of astronomy at Foothill College. "But we still have this notion that when the sun spends more time with us, those are good times."
Spring is a particularly good time for California farmers and ranchers, who were responsible for more than $43 billion worth of production in 2011, leading the country by a large margin. "Spring is an exciting time for us, because you're just starting the work, and there's something new as the ground is being turned over," says Jennifer Scheer, executive director of the Santa Clara County Farm Bureau. "Any losses or frustrations that you had last year are washed away and you're in a new place, starting fresh."
The same is true for hummingbirds, chickadees and titmice who have begun building nests for the hatchlings that soon will start the natural cycle of renewal again. "There are a lot more birds singing, a lot more carrying sticks and grass," points out Bob Power, executive director of the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society. "It's been quiet for several months, but now things are really starting to happen."
So, open a window. Bask in buttery sunlight. Go ahead, we'll wait.
Contact Bruce Newman at 408-920-5004.
Morgan Hill and Gilroy: Santa Clara Valley Passport Weekend, March 23 and 24, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. $30 admission. Winery tours. For information call 408-842-6436.
San Francisco: International Chocolate Salon, March 24, begins at 10 a.m., Fort Mason, Marina Boulevard and Buchanan Street. Enjoy 55,000 square feet of chocolate from 40 master chocolatiers, during eight hours of unlimited tastings. Or die trying.
Mountain View: A La Carte & Art, May 4-5, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Castro Street. Featuring live music, arts and crafts, and a "Tons of Fun Zone" for kids.
Sunnyvale: Magic of Sunnyvale Downtown Wine and Food Stroll, May 11, 2:30-5:30 p.m. Sample food and wine while being entertained by magicians. Stroll begins at Chamber of Commerce, 260 S. Sunnyvale Ave.
Berkeley: Chocolate & Chalk Art Festival. Prizes awarded for best drawings. Sampling packets 10 for $10. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. June 1. North Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley. 510-548-5335, www.anotherbullwinkelshow.com/chocolate-chalk-art.
Foster City: Arts and Wine Festival. Art, crafts, carnival, lagoon cruises, dragon boat rides, food, wine and beer, entertainment. Festival is at 11 a.m. June 1-2. Leo Ryan Park, East Hillsdale and Shell boulevards. Free admission. 650-573-7600, www.fostercitychamber.com.
Pleasanton: Goodguys Summer Get-Together. 20th annual. More than 2,500 hot rods, custom and classic cars and trucks, vendor exhibits, swap meet, entertainment and more. 8 a.m.-5 p.m. June 1 and 8 a.m.-4 p.m. June 2. Alameda County Fairgrounds, 4501 Pleasanton Ave., Pleasanton. $6-$17, $8 parking. 925-426-7600, www.good-guys.com/sgt.
Walnut Creek: Art and Wine Festival. More than 200 artists and crafts persons, beer and wine, food, family entertainment. 11 a.m.-7 p.m. June 1; 11 a.m.-6 p.m. June 2. Heather Farm Park, North San Carlos Drive. Free admission. 925-934-2007, www.walnut-creek.com.