Slow dancing with a Midwest spring

Opinion: Ken Trainor

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By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

Now that spring finally seems to have arrived (I'm keeping my fingers crossed), the following column, which first ran on April 15, 2009, deserves a reprise:

Spring is here.

Why doesn't my heart go dancing?

Spring is here.

Why isn't the waltz entrancing?

Why doesn't the breeze delight me?

Why doesn't the night invite me?

Spring is here.

Spring is here

I hear.

—Rodgers and Hart

Spring in the Midwest is an acquired taste. I should know. I've spent many, many years acquiring it.

But I think I've just about got it down cold. To enjoy spring in this part of the country, you have to slow down. You can't be in a hurry. You must cultivate patience.

That can be a challenge after a long winter, and for many years I wasn't very good at it. Spring is the ultimate recidivist, the weather constantly reverting back to its old wintry ways. Two steps forward, one step back. One step forward, two steps back.

A Midwest spring is an exercise in waiting. Charles Kuralt once described spring in Charleston, S.C., as arriving "in a showy rush." There is no such rush in the Midwest. Spring takes its sweet time, and you can't enjoy it unless you, too, bide time.

Spring in the Midwest is the diametric opposite of high-speed Internet. It's like a wave in super-slow motion — or the slow swelling that leads to that wave. It is inexorable and can't be contained once set in motion, but it feels absolutely no sense of urgency.

To enjoy spring, you should dress for winter. Too many people dress by the calendar. If it's spring, they think, I should be able to wear shorts. Then they shiver and gripe about the cold. No wonder. I wear my winter coat, buttoned all the way up, until the thermometer tops 50. I overdress until mid-June.

Spring is a tease. One day we'll hit 60 degrees. The next day it snows. For years, I took it personally but it's no one's fault. Spring is maddening, but only if you expect more than the season is willing to give. For years, I was too impatient to enjoy it. Each setback infuriated me. Winter was long enough. We were entitled to some relief. Finally, I learned that spring isn't about me. It's about the world wide web of grass and the carefully prescribed schedule of blossoming: snow drop and crocus, hyacinth and scylla, daffodil and tulip, forsythia and magnolia, crabapple and pear, iris and peony.

Spring doesn't care that you want to go to the beach. It knows the grass likes 43 degrees and drizzle.

Sometimes it seems as if spring will never come, but it comes anyway. Buds swell, barren branches thicken with growth, grass greens, the vanguard leaves of future flowers break the newly thawed topsoil, defying threats of frost.

People complain spring is too short, but what they really mean is that its peak is too short. The season itself is long, leisurely in its pace.

Spring says, "Slow down. The heat will be here soon enough. Enjoy the subtlety, the extended anticipation, the coming forth, the colors, the scents, the mystery of it all. So much is ahead of you. Savor this beginning. Look at the earth awakening. The world is coming alive again."

It took many years, but I finally slowed down enough to appreciate this season, ever so incremental in its unfolding. Cold is OK. There's still plenty to do indoors. In spite of all, winter has lost its grip, no matter how often the rain turns slushy.

There's nothing fancy or showy about a Midwestern spring. But it lasts a long, long time, and it is enjoyable — if you're not in a hurry.

Spring is here. My heart is beginning to dance … oh so slowly.

Update, 2013: After an extremely long buildup, spring came all at once in the last two weeks. You could almost call it "a showy rush."


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Ed McDevitt from River Forest  

Posted: May 9th, 2013 3:10 PM

I, too, was thrilled that Spring finally took off its boots and jacket and started brightening up its raiment. When suddenly (and it took just a day) the Bradford pears started blooming, winter slunk away. And then my buzz got killed. My spouse, botanic student that she is, put an article in front of me about what a poor tree citizen the Callery/Bradford pear is - a foreign plant bred as a street tree for cold climate that spreads its seeds far and wide, invading our woods. I'm crushed.

Brent Borgerson from Oak PPark  

Posted: May 8th, 2013 10:29 PM

Right Ken, worth the encore!

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