By choosing this title I’ve invited an unnecessarily long discussion about what truly can be classified as spring. Clearly when a Chicagoan says the word, she means something different from what someone in San Francisco, Minneapolis, or Miami would mean. So I’ll simplify and say that by spring I mean the definite end of whatever winter is for you. My spring comes sometime in April, whereas yours may occur during another month entirely, but wherever you are, Spring (capital letter totally intentional) is the meteorological sigh of relief.
It is also a waking-up time. Think of a flabby bear shaking dust from his coat and snorting grumpily as he breaches the rim of his cave and the fresh air hits him full in the face. I definitely have a day or two like that. I’m grumpy not from hunger but from heavy-clothing fatigue. One morning I step out of the house on my usual walk to the train, and the air has changed. Even if the wind is chilly, the edge has gone, and I can actually smell dirt—the livening-up earth that begins to grow warm and to shift as the worms struggle through it.
The birds know that winter is leaving, because long before dawn they are singing like little lunatics who see the sun when there is none. They trill and chirp across the streets and backyards, sending news of eggs about to hatch, locations of good nest materials and the best meals, upcoming family reunions, bar mitzvahs and what-have-you. Darkness and wind do not hamper their enthusiasm; the muddy streets fill with noisy cheer.
When the damp gusts no longer press with cold, I venture out of my defensive posture, loosening a scarf and breathing deeply for the first time in weeks. It is not painful to inhale—no fit of coughing, no aching lungs. No icy draft scrapes my face like a sandy towel. After a day or two I’m confident enough to peel off layers of clothing with the urgency of someone escaping a muddy shirt or itchy pantyhose. Freedom! How easy it is to love a world in which I can bare my arms, ankles, and throat.
As the senses awaken, so does hope. If the cold can leave so quickly and effortlessly, then perhaps so can other factors that weary and worry me. Maybe the money will stretch further this month. Maybe I will sleep better. Maybe my writing will improve. Maybe my better self will gather energy and live in such a way that I become happier being me.
The mystics have always said that every movement within has its counterpart without, and vice-versa. So a change in weather—a complete shift of season—fills me with the conviction that my interior life can genuinely change. This sort of hope comes suddenly, with the first fragrant sips of lighter air. And this is dangerous.
It is dangerous because hope is always risky. Hope teases me loose in the same way the late April wind frees my hair from a jacket collar—the movement is instantaneous, reckless, and trembling toward possibility. You cannot hope in safety, not really. Just as a spring morning compels my feet out into the day, hope moves me, against common sense, into a field spacious enough for grand, shimmering dreams. In that place and moment, I know how wonderful life could be. Not only do I know what life could be, but I begin to want a deeper one, a life more expansive and satisfying than the one I now have, a life as unreasonable and luxurious as a long row of crabapple trees fully in bloom.
Spring is dangerous because it seduces me to desire. During this season more than any other, my loves and whims, my wants and schemes, follow grumpy bear out of his cave. Everything feels more possible when the days turn gentle. And once those tones of young green burst into the landscape—all the lilies and peonies, daffodils, oak leaves and mulberry leaves, lettuce, oregano, and wild onion—well, desire becomes delirium. I might just fall in love with five different people on the same day. I might imagine a novel so artful and heartbreaking that I will ruin the next ten years of my life trying to write it. Dear Jesus, how desire can undo us completely, can manifest inside us like floods of adrenalin or visions of the desert mothers.
This is why spring is dangerous. The whole natural world—breezes to blackbirds, shine of sun to blanket of bluebells—comes at me in a lovely tumble of song, texture, taste, color, and wind. Who can hold up against this all-out campaign of joy? How can the heart then stay in winter?
I believe that this surge of desire is responsible for the many romances of spring. And even when you have no romance, if you will allow the season’s process to move you, you can feel yourself greening and growing, getting beautiful, and looking forward. You might just envision yourself loved and loving. You might take a chance and say hello to someone new and not disappear into layers of wool before that person can respond in kind.
It is a perilous thing to desire a good life, even more so to open your soul wide enough for goodness to come in, for hope to make itself at home, for desire to set up her studio and start throwing paint all over the room, for the little birds to perch on your best furniture and chirp their enigmatic songs of praise. We develop some comfort in the winter rooms, wrapped in sweaters with our doors shut tight against just about everything. Unlike the bear, we do not fast at all, but fill up on whatever gives us comfort and a passing sort of calm. If we’re not careful, when winter leaves we won’t emerge hungry for what is wonderful but will waddle out, already full of anxieties and hurts, fearful of the new light and the spongy ground. Vivid colors make us nervous, and the bird chants are merely nerve-wracking. Spring puts us on alert. It does not feel like hope but pricks our nostrils like the pungent threat of change.
Well, let the spring days come. May their breezes toss me end over end, if that’s what it takes to jar the door and slip its latch. May wild desires move through me like a recurring ache until I get into motion and turn winter flab into muscle. May I trip over mossy roots or stumble while looking up at clouds and sparrows—any jolt or turn that will elicit some deep, healthy breaths.
For anyone who reads this: I sincerely hope that Spring overcomes you, that it unhinges and undresses you. Be brave and listen to one bird sing, and not for a few seconds but for three entire minutes. After that, with all your soul you will desire the next note, and the next. And after that, it will be impossible to stop listening.