“If you’re really listening, if you’re awake to the poignant beauty of the world, your heart breaks regularly.”---Andrew Harvey
I have ached for spring these past several weeks. For a couple of days earlier in the week, we were offered respite from a winter that has been particularly tough—many days when the thermometer was on the wrong end of zero degrees Fahrenheit, and countless nights of snow squalls that left us to wake to up to six to eight inches of new snow.
In January, my love and I got a new rescue puppy. Fresh off the truck from Tennessee, she has not had a day here where her baby feet have not had to slog through snow. My partner and I long for her to feel the sunshine, play in the grass, flush the voles and the birds that inhabit the bracken at the edge of our property. But all she has known since she has arrived is the contrast between a heated house and the cold.
Cold and miserable have been fraternal twins. In a normal year, one trades the sun for warmth. It is the cloud-covered days that insulate us enough to make it passably warm. High-pressure systems, complete with cerulean skies and lemon sun freeze us, as if by ripping off the cloud cover leaves us naked in our bed of snow.
This winter, it hasn’t mattered. Cloudy or sunny, we have acclimated ourselves to days that never crawl above 20, and nights that freeze your nose hairs as you wait for the dogs to relieve themselves one last time before bed.
A sun as weak as chamomile tea has occasionally offered itself in contrast to the dirty sheep’s wool clouds. Combined with the dormant dun-colored trees, the world offers a palette of color that looks the work of a joyless artist.
And so, at some moment in that stretch of time when the last leaf crumbles and falls, when the gloaming seems all there is, when bright sunshine is a memory that you cannot trust not to have dreamed, you simply put your head down and focus on making it through. The thing that saves you is experience—just as a woman who has given birth knows that eventually all pregnancies come to an end—close to a score of winters’ experience instills in you the knowledge that the sun will again shine, the red-wing blackbird will return, and the wildflowers will break through the earth and bring with them the spring.
But you cannot trust it to happen in March. Not here. Cruel Marches in the past have brought with them 60-degree days, chicory-blue, golden-raisin sunshine and a warm breeze that lifts the listlessness. But March is notorious in these parts for bringing the worst of the blizzards—record-breaking snow dumps that muffle everything except the sound of a million snowflakes striking frozen earth.
Last week, March deposited 25 inches of snow on us. And then four days later, gave us an inch of rain, only to return to sub-freezing temperatures the next day.
So, this is the hope I cling to:
Soon, spring will bring with it a symphony: Running water, the ripple and snap of blowing grass and baby-leafed trees, and bird song. Nest building will take place and the returning birds (not our hardy woodpeckers, blue jays, and chickadees, but rather, the bluebird, robin, and oriole) will sit in their trees, declaring their territory, calling to them the reluctant females.
Overhead, Canada and Snow Geese will darken the skies in their formations. The turkeys will begin their tom-foolery: either forcing traffic to stop so that they may cross the road single-file, on foot, without benefit of flying, or else gleaning the previous year’s cornfields, the harem of Jennies who comically ignore the tumescent plumage of the Tom who thinks that the bling of his tail will catch a female’s eye.
Across the street upon which I live, the goddess of the current, Thoosa, will be angry as hell as the rain begins to fall and the winter’s ice pack is loosed. Transition never takes place quietly; change is noisy, riotous. The shouting of the water will drown out the last of the melancholy thoughts, and they will be churned away in the dirty froth of the creek as it rushes madly toward the lake.
Soon, susurration will replace crash, and the creek will provide the lullaby that quiets the memory of the winter storm.
I long for all of this, but, like Tantalus, I know that spring will play with us. Can we expect it later this March? April? Or, Demeter-forbid, will this be one of those years when the daffodils don’t break ground until mid-May?
In the meantime, I walk. Soon, I will see in mywanderings the print of a bear, no doubt a hungry male black bear, not terribly interested in me, but in search of early shoots and full birdfeeders to ease his tummy’s desires.
He and I will walk our separate paths to the sanity of summer. He was here first, and I will always cede the right of way to him. But I will welcome him, nonetheless.
While he sleeps, I dream. And wait.
All photos taken by Lorraine Berry. Black bear print taken on trail in March, 2010.
An earlier draft of this essay appeared at