Winter is a sleepy time in northeastern Europe — mornings are dark, evenings are even darker and the rest is somewhere in between. Five months of relative darkness are an inevitable reality, one that is only lightened by the anticipation of spring (and I don't live anywhere near the North Pole). The darkness used to be brightened by snow. From my childhood in beloved Lithuania, I remember the first snows in November would last until March, and the cold days when schools would be closed (-30 Celsius or -22 Fahrenheit) and my eyelashes would start sticking together when I was out feeding songbirds in the forest or ducks in the city ponds. We rarely get snowy Christmases anymore. In fact, the new Lithuanian guessing game, "Will we get a white Christmas this year?" starts well before December. Snow makes life better and not just for people. It is an excellent insulator of soil, protects plants in winter and replenishes the water supply.
In my opinion, due to climate change we now have a fifth season. I call it "mehh..." because it's just greyish brown, nature is still sleeping, there is no life in nature, it's neither warm nor cold and the rain becomes our best friend. This can last up until May (last year, we got actual snow in May).
Growing up in a place which has/had four well-defined seasons, my childhood life moved to the rhythm of these natural seasonal milestones. You would start to feel the beginning of spring around the corner in still-cold, late February: birds would chirp differently and the sunsets would have pinkish clouds. Early March was the time of liberation from snow: using sticks, we would crush bigger pieces of snow and ice, making little paths for snowy water to escape and melt quicker. Soon the first flowers — snowdrops — would bloom as the first official sign of spring. Later in March we would be greeted with crazy frog calls in the ponds. Soon our world would be bursting with life and our heads would be spinning from all the sights, colors and smells that we had been deprived of all winter.
Spring has always been of great importance to Lithuanians — it is present in our classical poetry and traditional celebrations (like Užgavėnės, when we dress up and try to scare away the winter). It means a new beginning, an end to the cold and dark of winter for farmers. Not so long ago, the majority of Lithuanians were farmers who depended on their observations of nature, and therefore had a strong connection with it. The United States uses groundhogs to predict the onset of spring; we have badgers, bees, thunderstorms, ants, the Day of the Skylark (February 24) and the return from the south of Lithuania‘s national bird, the white stork, among others. The predictions for spring based on the behavior of animals and natural occurrences have been pretty accurate in the past because they were developed over hundreds of years through careful observations, which were then passed on to new generations. Due to climate change, however, it's all messed up now. And even though these signs and the onset of spring don't mean as much to the modern society and are not vital for survival, losing that connection with nature is like losing part of our identity.