A little while ago I was having dinner with a couple of friends from South Carolina. Like pretty much all southerners, they think I’m crazy to live up here. Sixty degrees is cold to these people and snow is just a nightmare. Some have never even seen it.
During the conversation I tried to explain how much more precious and momentous spring is for people with harsh winters. How the first breeze that doesn’t hurt your face is the most welcome caress. That little squeal of joy when you hear the first spring peepers of the year. The contest with your brother or sister of who sees the first robin. The first loon.
It’s that feeling of safety and having made it through an ordeal. It’s part relief, part happiness. It’s reassuring and joyful. When you lose something every year you can never take it for granted even if you know it will be back. Renewal, when it seems like it will never come, is always more appreciated when it does.
Driving down the road you can see buds on the trees and the blush of maple blossoms. Pussy willows go from downy gray to exuberant yellow. Catkins wave on every aspen and birch. Bark stretches and splits. Spiders and wee bees creep out from the forest floor. Squirrels scamper. Sporophytes stretch on tiny stalks into the breeze.
When the snow melts and the vernal pools form. Water runs everywhere, seeking its way to the sea. The first shoots of green in the endless shades of brown leaf litter. The lift in your heart listening to the birds. Some have stayed with you during the cold weather, but they were quiet. Some have returned with the sun and the days that stretch golden. Their songs, their bustling activity tumbles alongside your own restlessness.
The ice gives way and you see the first crayfish zipping in and out of crevices and rocky hides. It’s when a bumblebee cruises near and you can’t see her, but her buzzing presence tells you that the earth has warmed and the flowers are opening. You look in the backyard and realize the lawn is actually green in spots!
Almost buried in the leaf litter are the spring ephemerals – early wildflowers that brave the cold, crave the sun and are gone before June. On their heels the ferns rise, curled and fuzzy, unfurling lazily like steam from your coffee cup. And what about that first tree frog trill? Lights me up every time.
The first butterflies! Spring azures, morning cloaks and commas! Little moths trying to hide on your garage door in the sun. Putting the screens in the window so your house can smell crisp and fresh. I have an excitement I can literally feel in my stomach. I love it.
People who live where it’s warm all the time just can’t imagine this kind of bubbly joy. This freshness. This awakening. The turning of the planet. It is worth any number of 20-below-zero days. Worth any amount of snow.