A long winter's payoff: Spring euphoria

Opinion: Ken Trainor

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Spring is coming. No, really. I have it on the highest authority: Dozens of sandhill cranes circling high above Austin Gardens last Sunday (March 9, happy birthday, Jack Levering) on their northwest flyway to Wisconsin. Right on time.

There is a comforting inevitability about the seasons. You can stare at those icebergs along streets and walkways — lovingly crafted by nature, snowplows and shovels — with a certain cocky assuredness, as if to say, "You're living on borrowed time."

Slowly, grudgingly, temperatures have crept into the 40s during the day, the 20s at night — the combination that starts the sap rising in the sugar maples. Our snowmelt is progressing, inexorably, a little like watching the polar ice caps give way.

It can't happen fast enough for most. This season has long overstayed its welcome. But an old-fashioned winter, with its enduring snow cover, has made me slightly nostalgic — a throwback to my youth. The 1950s and '60s were, according to a Tom Skilling report a few years back, the snowiest of the 20th century (by far). And since the '50s and '60s were the decades in which the Baby Boomers grew up, that means I'm probably not alone on this nostalgia tour, Boomers having raised nostalgia-tripping to an art form.

Global warming has, for the most part, relieved us of such severe winters. I trace the string back to 1998, our first mild winter/early spring in decades. Every time the park district froze a rink, the temperatures climbed and spoiled the skating. When I was a kid, Longfellow and Fox parks stayed solid all winter long.

 I admit I enjoyed the 16-year reprieve even though we'll pay a stiff price in the long run (we, too, are living on borrowed time and climate change is a merciless creditor). 

But in the short run, the mild winters have deprived me of one of life's most treasured annual experiences: Spring euphoria, the delirium tremendous that sets in when a severe winter finally, irrevocably lets go — those precious first few warm days when the white blanket at last dissolves, exposing the rich black soil, the very memory of which had been extinguished, when for the first time in months fragrance fills the air, and the air no longer assaults the skin, no longer forces the body to clench tightly against the cold. 

I cheated this year and flew to Los Angeles to visit friends over Presidents Day weekend. Though I savored a mini-euphoria, it was like visiting a "museum of summer." It didn't seem real, especially when I returned to several more snowstorms and subzero windchill.

So I'm ready for the thaw that allows the first shoots of spring flowers to pierce the once-frozen earth, the first balmy night, the cleansing rains that wash away winter's accumulated grime, the first days in the 60s when cabin-fevered recluses emerge to crowd the streets and parks, looking dazed and a little confused, as if to say, "Spring! I remember this!" The hats come off, the coats open and people start sunning themselves like daffodils.

E.E. Cummings captured spring euphoria in one of his poems (slightly altered for easier reading):

I thank you, God, for most this amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky, and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes

(I who have died am alive again today, and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth day of life and of love and wings, and of the gay, great, happening, illimitably earth)

How should any tasting, touching, hearing, seeing, breathing, human merely being – lifted from the no of all nothing – doubt unimaginable You? 

(Now the ears of my ears awake and now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Daylight Savings time has returned. The twilight lingers until 7:30. The sun is marching north along the horizon and will soon set directly west, a week from Thursday  on the vernal equinox. We are at the tipping point where for six months, each day contains more light than dark. 

Winter may rudely butt back in, but not for long. Spring will play its usual game of peek-a-boo but gradually grow less shy. Sooner than later, here and there, it will raise its lovely head and wink. And then blossom.

Unable to contain ourselves, euphoria will swell to welcome it as if to say, "I who have died am alive again today."

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