What comes next? Not spring. ‘Unlocking’ comes next. What else could cruel March and only slightly less cruel April be? March and April are not spring. They’re Unlocking.” –Kurt Vonnegut
Cruel indeed…here on the Lake Superior shore, temperatures one day can soar to fifty degrees, then plummet right back down into the twenties again, often dumping several inches of new snow on top of the melting waters. Spring here is very fickle, luring us out of our hibernation with the promise of sunshine and birdsong, only to turn its tail and whip us back around with an icy sharp north wind. One day, you’re walking down the still snowy beach soaking up vitamin D, and the next, you’re shoveling yesterday’s evaporation into piles again.
I was reminded of what Kurt Vonnegut wrote about seasons; that really, in our northern climes four neatly divided quadrants of the year do not do the weather any justice. There has to be a description for those transitions at the beginning and end of winter… “Locking” and “Unlocking”.
These transition times are exciting to me. Nothing is predictable, the freezing and thawing processes are so pronounced, and the landscape can look (and feel) amazingly different from one day to the next. Senses sharpen with the unpredictability, gauging every nuance of change in the air. There is something different in this early spring light, and very subtle. Winter loosens its grip and the water flows freely again, tumbling down rivulets, streams and rivers to the lake where puddles form on the surface of the ice reflecting the azure blue sky. Ice breaks into reticulated plates, floating on the clay-reddened waters. The sky and clouds are softer somehow, and the sun slowly gains strength until one day, no matter what the thermometer says, you feel it… Spring.
The birds know this…I hear flocks of them gathered together in evergreen trees, a cacophony of eager chirping. The cardinal calls out with its spring song…..“spirit, spirit, spirit”. The first robin sits on a branch in the sun, singing a lilting song that conjures up images in my mind of sky blue eggs. The trees too begin to stretch and wake after winter dormancy, filling to the tips of their tender branches with new sap. Willows are the first to come to life, shimmering gold in the lengthening light. Birches glow as the sap pulses through their veins and their twigs redden slightly. The hillsides blush with the slightest hints of rose and gold as the buds start to swell. Silvery white pussywillows pop out looking at first like little blobs of snow in the marshes.
Knowing the fleeting nature of these first glimpses of spring, I tumble out headlong into the day, to soak up sunlight and refill my soul with signs of new life.
Northern winters can be particularly hard, and with the lack of light many suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD – a type of nasty depression with an aptly fitting acronym. When warmth and light return, you can almost feel the mass lifting of the collective human spirit as sure as the sap rises in the trees. Hearts and moods soften as the skies are gentler, and soft warm breezes blow out the cobwebs of fear and angst. Hope rides on the updrafts.
The next day, we plunge back into Winter. The willows and birches thrash wildly in the wind and birds that alighted easily on sun warmed branches are buffeted by whirlwinds of swirling snow, seeking shelter deep inside the evergreens. If I had not seen the sneak previews of spring yesterday, I could swear it was still December. I den up and hunker down again, steeling myself for another bout with cold and darkness.
So it goes…back and forth. Unlocking is a process, but eventually the balance tips and spring has securely arrived. We can count on that.