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MARTHA SEZ: ‘Easter eggs, stand-up eggs—what’s the deal?’

My friend Margaret asked when I ran into her at the post office just now, “Do you ever think, this time of year, that spring is never going to come?”

“Yes,” I said.

Last week after a big snow the sky cleared and the sun just took over, melting the huge stalactite icicles on the eaves. What’s going on? I thought. This is weird–when I woke up this morning the temperature was eight degrees below zero.

Then I remembered–it’s spring! March 20 was the first astronomical day of spring.

Of course, you are not meant to take the astronomical first day of spring literally, any more than you give credence to the pronouncements of the groundhog, or believe that the Easter bunny delivers eggs. Still, it is a hopeful thing.

Coincidentally, March 20 really did feel like spring in the Adirondacks this year, and there is no use reminding everybody that April will be moody and capricious, blowing down trees and flooding Upper Jay by jamming the Ausable river with ice floes one minute and the next minute soothing everyone, as well as the deer and bears and other much put-upon wild creatures, with unutterable balm and bliss. Then, it will snow again.

In many parts of the United States–say, for example, Myrtle Beach or Florida, where most of your friends are right now–it really will be spring, but here we have to content ourselves with official spring. Maybe that’s just as well, because we really don’t want to tack any more days onto mud season.

Since the vernal equinox on March 20, the days are now longer than the nights. On the equinox, the sun travels rises exactly in the east and sets in the west. From then on, the sun continues to rise higher and higher each day until June 21, the summer solstice, when it reaches its highest point. Some people say that the sun doesn’t travel at all; instead, the earth travels around the sun, thus creating the seasons. Don’t think about that now, it will only confuse you.

I learned when still quite young that only at the vernal equinox, when days and nights are of equal length, is it possible to set raw eggs on end. This naturally seemed to me a worthwhile endeavor, as opposed to other things I could be doing, so every year at this time I worked at standing raw eggs up on the kitchen counter. I found it to be pretty difficult. Still, I sensed a moment when I could feel the gravity changing, a magical suspension as winter inexorably gave way to spring, when tides and planets and human hearts and Easter eggs were all in flux, falling naturally into a cosmic harmony!

It doesn’t work. If you forgot to stand up raw eggs at the vernal equinox this year, and are experiencing bitterness at the thought of waiting until the next vernal equinox, practically a whole year away, to try again, even though in theory the autumnal equinox should work just as well: Never mind.

I remember the exact time I first heard some so-called expert on television proclaim that seasonal egg standing is an urban myth. The eggs I had lined up (I had cheated by steadying them in little piles of Morton’s iodized table salt) immediately fell over and went rolling off the counter to smash on the kitchen floor. It was horrible.

I have since read that the story comes from the Chinese, who say that on Chen Li, the first day of spring, raw eggs can be stood on end. But Chen Li does not fall on the vernal equinox, so there goes all the science out the window. Still, Feng Shui is very mysterious, and it doesn’t do to question these things.

I wonder why this should be such an eggy time of year. Easter eggs, stand-up eggs–what’s the deal? At this point, someone will say, “It’s a pagan fertility symbol,” as if that explains anything.

Once people hear that the vernal equinox has nothing to do with balancing eggs, they find they can do it just as well on any other day of the year. More cancel culture.

The stalactites will continue to come and go for a while yet, the North Country being what it is. If you have trouble remembering the difference between stalagmites and stalactites, just remember that stalagmites, hanging from the roof, have to hang on with all their might.

Happy Easter.