Out here by Puget Sound, the weather has been classic;
After a fairly dry and clear, if cold winter, the rains came in, and before we’d gotten through the first full week of March we’d set records for rainfall. It’s been dark, it’s been wet, it’s been heavy. Every morning in addition to general traffic reports, the radio tells me which highways have been rerouted or closed due to mudslides.
Then, as if to add insult to injury, they ambush us with Daylight Savings time.
It seemed early for it this year. I know my friends in the Midwest, still under multiple inches of snow, or my niece and her family in Colorado who are still getting fresh inches of snow, can barely tolerate the mention of spring; it seems like some sort of mean tease.
I’ve said this before and I’ll probably continue to say this until people get a bag over me, but I’ve never understood the characterization of spring as bright and sweet. Growing up in Indiana, it was a brief exchange between two violent seasons: the heaviness and long goodbye of winter, and the intensity and humidity of summer. For a moment in there we had a spongy thaw and tornadoes, while everyone dressed in pastels and acted like this was some sort of lawn party.
It wasn’t until I lived in Houston, Texas, of all places, that I really got it. There of course, the weather is just varying degrees of humid. Winter might be damp and humid, summer shifts to simply nasty and humid. Winter might get as low as fifty on occasion, but once the thermometer hits 90 again, which is usually in May, that’s it—it doesn’t look back—and won’t drop down below 90 until maybe October, but quite likely December.
But I became aware of a moment—usually in April, when the weather paused at a fairly balmy 80 degrees and the flash floods hadn’t hit yet—the crepe myrtles bloomed, like a standing riot of bouquets. Poor little Yankee, I didn’t know what they were when I saw them—thought they might be some sort of lilac, but I’d never seen lilacs in red and pink, as well as lavender and white. During that brief spell of pleasant weather I’d walk out to my car in the mornings and find that the crepe myrtle by the curb had dropped blossoms all over the hood and roof, like some sort of random Hindu blessing. I knew this moment was fleeting. (The blossoms would drop, the cicadas would kick in, and all would be lost.) But I also knew the crepe myrtle was feeding something elemental, some reservoir of renewal.
So after the days and days of hosing rain we recently got a break, and I headed out quickly to get my poor shut-in dogs some exercise. The weather was actually better than predicted and had warmed up into the low fifties, and the slate-colored clouds had space between them. Alongside my local gravel roads were fast streams of clear water, audible run-off running overtime to drain everything down to the sound. Walking along and looking around me like a surfaced mole, I spotted a few white blossoms in a neighbor’s ornamental plum tree: two or three on the long brown branch, still dripping. I thought—I was almost afraid to think it–I began to notice a slight shift in the air. Something in me, non-intellectual, organic, started to rise up to feel hope.
I maintain that this is not an easy time of year. The weather will improve, and the weather will worsen. In my area, even as song birds are stepping up to blow off a ringing call to the season, eagles are gathering starting to nest; the smaller birds panic as the dark forms glide over them. Volunteering at a wildlife shelter I watch as injuries come in from fights over territories, or as restlessness and mate-seeking drives mammals out on to the road. New babies are coming into the clinic, orphaned from the complete mistakes that happen to living creatures.
On the news there is the strange disappearance of an airliner in Malaysia, and I’m reminded of my father’s small plane’s disappearance years ago, when he was forty-seven. I am fifty-five; at this age my mother lived in her own part of the forest, an island off the upper peninsula of Michigan, deeply happy. None of us knew, of course, that in three years she’d be suddenly dead of cancer. On the other hand, some of my family go on into their eighties and even nineties. It remains a crapshoot.
Which made me think of when I was a student of the poet Colleen McElroy. In class once she told us that no matter how seriously we took ourselves, most young writers just didn’t have enough time on the planet to really know what they had to say. I remember the syllabic emphasis she used, the cadence of a broadly experienced African American woman (“You all haven’t had enough time on the planet…”)
There are a lot of ways to measure time on the planet. Clocks lurch forward, the earth tilts. Blossoms open and our hearts rise—the rain comes back, and there very well could be one more freeze before this season is behind us.
At this point, though, I may have had enough time on the planet to take a long moment and a deep breath and savor the lure of the warming air. I hear the water dripping off the evergreens, and after my very cynical youth I see that the pastels people wear for Easter really are all around me: in the plum trees, in the grass coming up through the mud.
It is just a moment, but it is also true.
For the near term, at least, the system seems rigged in our favor.