This weekend was the beginning of the spring season here. Sure, the official start was about two weeks ago, but for me spring doesn’t really get going until my eyes are itching and my nose is congested from allergies. Fortunately, the outburst of tree pollen fades in short order and the increasing temperatures and sunlight persist for the coming months. Those who live in the north mark their lives through the coming and going of the seasons, an uncertain method matching the uncertainty of our lives. Sometimes spring comes late, summer is unusually hot, or winter unusually harsh; people come and go, as does work, we move around. Despite their variability the seasons lend our lives a comforting backdrop. They happen in a regular order, spring always following winter, giving way to summer, and crisp fall days guide us gently (sometimes not so gently) back into winter. A predictability all of us crave at times.
Of the four, winter is the most maligned. It is often considered a period of dormancy for plants and animals alike. The leaves have left the trees, plants have died, man and animal have either migrated or shifted into a period of relative inactivity, some more than others. I am one of those who tries to stay active during the winter, picking up winter sports and trying to find the beauty in the outdoors when the weather is inhospitable even if it must happen underneath the protective layers of a thick jacket, hat, and mittens. I would be lying if I said that the long winter nights and the sometimes unrelenting bleakness did not get to me, especially in those bitterly cold January nights and damp and chilly February days, where spring seems so close yet still so far away.
Taking part in the preparation for planting season this year has changed my opinion on winter being a time of inactivity where rejuvenation awaits the spring thaw. Watching seeds come to life in mid-February, when the sky is still gray and snow is on the ground, was proof enough for me that winter is as much a time for life as the gentler seasons. Late winter is when the birds start to come and sing their songs once again, filling the void they left when they went south the previous autumn. Forest mammals begin to emerge from their winter homes. Particularly ambitious plants poke up out of the ground. People begin to plan their spring and summer activities knowing that even though they may still seem far away they’ll be here soon enough, often sneaking up without warning. It is thoughts like these that keep me going on those days in the depth of winter and hoping for warmer days, tromping home from work when it’s dark at four in the afternoon or watching from underneath a blanket as my street is buried by yet another snowfall. Even at its worst, spring is always right around the corner. Soon these plants, which emerged at the end of winter, will take root in the garden in the spring, grow throughout the summer, and bear fruit in the fall before winter claims them. Not long after it will be time to plant for another year.