In a well-known scene from Groundhog Day, Bill Murray as Phil Connors, uttered these heartfelt words:
Life as art came home to bear this past winter in Boise. We all felt like Phil Connors, were every bit as pissed off as Phil, and really, really hated life for a while.
I usually tolerate winter pretty well. There is a certain elegance and beauty in watching big, quarter-sized snowflakes fall and accumulate into a blanket of white on our half-dead lawn, trees, and roads. I like to go for a run in fresh snow, and hear it squeak under my running shoes. And then a day or two later, it mostly melts off and the sun comes out.
Or, it doesn’t.
One night in December, I fell asleep in Boise and woke up in Antarctica. Now that’s fine, if you’re in Antarctica of your own free will. And if I were in Antarctica in the winter, I’d only want to be there for, I don’t know, maybe just a week. Long enough to learn survival skills, take a few photos, sip scotch, and play backgammon for money with the regulars. I haven’t thought about Antarctica much, until now, but our city looked a lot like McMurdo for months…
But here, in Boise, it went on for weeks. And then a few weeks after that. In February, I didn’t even have the urge to think about planning our vegetable garden, much less plant seeds. I didn’t want to have anyone over for dinner. I now understand geese much better, as I dreamt of heading south for the winter.
I worked long hours, going to the office in the dark, returning in the dark, and opening a nightly bottle of wine mostly in the dark. Wood fire lit, Netflix on, who cares. Night after night of utter personal stagnation on the sofa, underneath a dune of polar fleece.
Painful days and wasted nights, fodder for a new country and western song.
Weeks and weeks later, the snow was mostly gone, the sun peeked out, and the temperature stayed above freezing for a few days.
The days started to get a tiny bit longer, temperatures occasionally then rose above 40, and one layer of polar fleece came off. Our spirits started to rise, mostly undaunted by the occasional snow flurries.
And finally, we started to emerge from the darkness to think about spring things like Girl Scout cookies, gardening, and starting something new.
One or two days it even hit 70 degrees and I felt like a goddamn daffodil, bursting through the ground, in defiance of the forces against me. But now I’m just being dramatic.
As spring gradually arrived, I decided there were five, no, six senses of spring to be aware of and enjoyed.
Sound: A few weeks ago, before Daylight Savings Time, I raised the garage door to leave for work. The first thing I heard was the glorious call of a meadowlark, followed soon by a mourning dove on the apex of our roof. It made me smile the kind of smile that lasted all the way until I read my first email at work.
The following weekend, I was outside for more than thirty seconds and I heard a plane take off from the landing strip near our house. It climbed its predictable spiral for 11,000 feet over our house and then, after the engine shifted, two bodies with colorful parachutes jumped out and screamed the kind of scream of exhilaration that I envy, but don’t want to experience. I’ll now hear this plane most days until early next winter. It’s a beautiful thing, as Martha would say.
Sight: Yes, this is an obvious one, but it’s not to be discounted. Underneath the feet of snow is now flattened, brown, pseudo-grass, exhausted from months under icy pressure. It looks dead to me, but I hope it’s not, otherwise spring will be very expensive. Regardless of its paltry condition, I’m thrilled to see it. And the dogs are too, since pooping on feet of the icy, white stuff is oh, so, unappealing. I can actually see and drive on the asphalt of our driveway without getting stuck or sliding uncontrollably back to the road below.
The large picture windows in our living room, now that there is sunlight occasionally coming through them, are filthy. I mostly don’t care. I can walk around the house and see a hundred things that a person into spring cleaning should tackle immediately. Me? Not so much. But I did clean the dust bunnies off of the digital scale. I’ll get on it…later.
Although as soon as the afternoon temperature rose above 50 degrees, I was tempted to move my ten black turtleneck sweaters to another closet. I resisted this urge, which turned out to be wise, since the next day, Alaskan weather came back to visit for a few more days. But just thinking about the possibility of moving my sweaters made me happy.
One day, it was so remarkably sunny, I needed to find my sunglasses. I realized that I had no idea where they were, but just the process of looking for them was fun.
Smell: OK, this is where I don’t do so well, since I have almost no sense of smell. But what I am acutely aware of is that the weather is warm enough so that I don’t feel the frozen hair inside my nose, every time I breathe. That’s something, right?
Touch: Having been buried under layers of clothes and gloves for months, removing some of the insulation was deeply freeing. I had forgotten, actually, that I have a small tattoo on my right ankle, because I haven’t seen my right ankle in ages. I thought it was a death mole.
A few weeks ago, with a level of delight usually reserved for young children and rain puddles, we went outside to unearth part of our large vegetable garden from the fall and winter debris. It was great to feel the earth on my pale hands, getting stuck under my nails. Grounding, quite literally. I saw a worm in the vaguely warm soil and was so happy to see it that I almost took a photo of it for a Facebook post. This marvelous quote sums it all up:
“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”
– Margaret Atwood
Taste: Winter was filled with the kinds of heavy, filling food usually reserved for bears who are about to hibernate. I can’t even count the number of heads of lettuce that I threw out, uneaten. Meat, pork, potatoes, pasta, stew, bread, cheese, red wine, scotch, and then probably too many tortilla chips. It has been a most unhealthy winter.
Until Daylight Savings Time started, the thrill of driving to work in the magical, early dawn light gave me hope. I didn’t need to rush home in the dark to make a blazing fire every night because the afternoon sun had warmed the house.
I bought more lettuce which gave Gary hope that maybe someday I would make a salad again. He might be right, but he makes such better salads than I do. I’ll eat his salads, but not my own.
Then Daylight Savings Time came and, as usual, brought with it its own blessings and curses. Mostly more coffee drinking for a week or so. The dogs aren’t sure now what time to get me up in the morning, but regardless, it will still be too damn early.
I know this quote is a little dated, but it’s still funny and describes my sentiments perfectly:
“Don’t forget it’s daylight savings time. You spring forward, then you fall back.
It’s like Robert Downey Jr. getting out of bed.”
– David Letterman
Hopefulness: Call it what you will, the energy of spring has its own amazing power. Growth. Newness. Freshness. Possibility. Enthusiasm.
The annual urges for planning and planting the vegetable garden have finally taken over and won’t be stopped. The desire to be sociable again leads to finally making plans with friends. I look through cookbooks for new recipes to try. I can’t quite find what I want, so I’ll make it up.
If I were a flower-arranger, I’d be doing that. But somehow, when I stick beautiful flowers in a vase, they always look depressed. But I’ll keep trying, because it’s spring, dammit.
I look down at my neglected toenails and promise them some attention. A few Sundays ago, while bright, spring sunlight played on the bathroom floor and my border collie, Claire, dozed in its midst, I tackled them with various sharp instruments and won.
It’s the kind of weather that makes me want to grab a blanket and park it under a blossoming tree in a park or on a college campus and read poetry. Which I never do. But anything to get close to this feeling, from Chile’s poet laureate of days gone by:
“I want to do to you what spring does with the cherry trees.”
– Pablo Neruda
There’s a lot to look forward to now. Our first hearty seedlings are up: Bok choi, Chinese cabbage, and broccoli. The 48 pepper plants can’t be far behind. Fava beans and snow peas are in the ground. Fresh-grown asparagus will be roasted and on our dinner plates any day now.
As spring inevitably takes hold, there will be morel mushroom hunting, weekend trips to Phoenix and Walla Walla, and a trip to Spain in May.
But today, it’s a mixed bag. Critical deadlines loom. The wind is howling like an animal, swirling around the house. So there’s only one thing to do: Go get a haircut. And maybe I’ll ditch the black turtleneck and go for grey today, just to prove how hopeful I am. That could work.
So, the hell with you, Phil Connors. Changes will be made. Chances will be taken. Opportunities will be seized. Let’s go buy a new car. It’s time for a spring fling, dammit.
Thanks for reading. I know how busy you are.