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Randy Holladay is a former Louisa County High School earth science teacher. His guest column, On & Off Earth, is published once a month. 

During my time teaching Earth and space science, I was occasionally asked, during our astronomy unit, “What’s your favorite planet?” My quick response was always the same: Earth. That was not one of the responses students were hoping for, but I persisted and still do. We share our solar system with seven other amazing planets as well as thousands of other very cool space objects but we have, far and away, the best of them all.

Wonderfully habitable as Earth is, it remains an active, dangerous, unpredictable place to live a life. Last month, I downplayed the lack of cold, snow and ice during recent winters; be careful what you wish for. Earth seems to be continuing the trend toward extreme weather events.

Last year reset records for world temperatures, hurricane numbers and wildfire size and intensity, all amid a viral pandemic. The recent return and extended stay of the polar vortex and our bouts of snow and the dreaded freezing rain should remind us of the Earth basics: There will be change and we need to be ready to adapt. March’s potential for rapid change, from winter to spring (with hints of summer) and back, makes adaptation a daily consideration.

March begins with outside walks still dominated with the muted, sepia tones of winter, the flat light of cloudy days allowing long views through the woods of our rolling Piedmont terrain. By month’s end, the pale greens of young leaves and the colors of early blossoms will shorten but liven those views. 

While I’ve enjoyed the return of snow and how it adds beauty and contrast to those winter views, the slipping on the refreeze and slopping through the melt is not quite as much fun as I remember. Snow is much more fun on skis than on foot. I’m looking forward to less messy trails and the warmth and green that March will occasionally and eventually bring.

As this rather chilly and quite wintery February winds down, the lengthening daylight reminds us the long winter darkness is coming to an end. The full shock of that extra light doesn’t happen until a little later this year. Daylight Savings Time begins as late as it can, the second Sunday in March being the 14th this year. 

By then, days are close to equal periods of light and dark; sunrise and set both occur at 7:18 on St. Patrick’s Day. Earth’s atmosphere bends the light of sunrise and sunset a bit, pushing the “equal night” of the Equinox up a few days. Spring officially begins at 5:37 a.m. Eastern time on the 20th as our tilted planet’s solar orbit brings the sun back across the equator and over the northern hemisphere, where it will beam down more directly for the next six months. Time for sunscreen!

After October’s two Full moons, all the Full moons of 2021 occur late each month. March’s Full Worm moon will be on the 28th. Except for slowly sinking and dimming Mars, all the other planets are behind the sun and barely visible just before dawn. The sun begins March well into Aquarius and moves into Pisces on the 13th.

Since late January, on my midday wander around my favorite planet, I’ve been seeing the harbinger of spring: a flock of robins, out worming in the field behind my woods. I hope you are able to get out, safely, for a wander and find your sign of spring in the warmer, better-lit days ahead.

Randy Holladay is a retired Louisa County High School earth science teacher.

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