This column first ran in 2014:
It’s difficult to say what time of year is best. January is the calm following the holiday hurricane, as daylight incrementally lengthens in the wake of the winter solstice. I relish the snugness of the February cocoon; the first brave protrusions of erupting crocuses in March, the sun setting, dead center on the western horizon, in perfect balance at the spring equinox; the sudden elongation of light into the evening upon the return of Daylight Saving Time; Easter, when the theological Resurrection enjoys an objective correlative in nature’s rebirth; the blossom bonanza in April; the leafing of trees in early May; the brilliant roses, perfumed linden blossoms and lingering daylight deep into a June night; the peak-summer sultriness of July and August; the hazy, mellow sunlight of September; the explosion of color in October; the moody darkness of Halloween; the inviting warmth of Thanksgiving; the starry wonder of the winter solstice and the luminous rebuttal of Christmas.
Every time of year has something to recommend it, not the least being that each lasts so short a time — yet can be counted on to return again. Variety and continuity — not a bad deal this cycle of seasons.
But May, when it’s right, would finish near the top of most lists.
Johnny Cash composed his anthem to Ireland, “Forty Shades of Green,” in 1961 after an enchanting visit to the Emerald Isle. I thought of it, wandering the village last Sunday in the full glory of early May. There must be 40 shades of green in Oak Park and River Forest now.
The catalogue is unfolding, not all of it green: Tulips, daffodils, dandelions, rhododendrons, hyacinths, bleeding hearts, scilla siberica, spring beauty, magnolias, crabapple, ornamental pear, forsythia, redbud, dogwood — even lilacs and lilies of the valley are poised and ready to issue their intoxicating fragrance.
It’s touch-and-go for tree blossoms each spring. A blustery day at the wrong time can decimate these painted ladies. It was blustery last week and the week before, but somehow, spring perseveres.
The deciduous trees are also flowering right now. Though not as showy, maples bear a lighter shade of green, a lovely contrast to the deeper green of grass and tulip leaves.
The air is full of fragrance and pollen, which means my nose (newly reawakened from its wintry slumber) and eyes are full of it. Watering, itching and sneezing are how I relate to spring. Spring is nothing if not ironic. I worship what I’m allergic to, but suffer I must because this is the glorious time of year.
Also the most unsettled, even turbulent, time. Maybe “dynamic” is the better term. Fertile to the point of fecundity. It’s all in how you look at things. I look, dazzled.
In Austin Gardens, the park district has posted small signs, close to the ground, identifying the various patches of wildflowers — rue anemone, trout lily, mayapple, red trillium — exotic names for unusual flowers that could easily be overlooked if you didn’t know there was a treasure trove at your feet in the wooded section of this hidden oasis.
Spring is notoriously stingy in this part of the country, but May isn’t stingy when it peaks, with its wide array of tulips (waning), irises, bridal veil, Korean spice viburnum, and heavy-headed peonies. Trees shed seeds by the truckload, and the streets fill with birds, darting to and fro, feasting on this reproductive orgy while dodging the murderous fenders of passing autos.
There is no spring delirium like the euphoria in the upper Midwest because we are accorded so few perfect days that, when they arrive, people are dazed by the grandeur of it all.
We shouldn’t set holidays by the calendar. We should wait for perfect days and declare them holidays — by consensus.
If only life could be so simple.
Actually life is that simple, though we disguise it in complicated clothing, which is why we too often overlook what it offers. We long for more when life is presenting its best right under (and currently in) our noses.
Unhappiness is the belief that life, in its current condition, isn’t good enough. I don’t mean man-made life with its poverty, injustice, and violence — all the nasty stuff we can’t seem to solve.
I mean life itself, being alive, a life worth living, those rare moments when you find yourself saying, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”
If that’s enough, you’re one of the lucky ones. If you keep asking, “Is that all there is?” then you’ve joined the ranks of the restless, spreading dissatisfaction.
I often find myself with a foot in each camp.
Which may explain why satisfaction and dissatisfaction have little correlation with wealth or poverty, illness or health, success or failure. It may be due to body chemistry, but if there’s a secret to happiness, it’s not asking more of life than life is capable of giving.
Most of the year it’s either too hot or too cold around here, but when it’s right, nothing is more marvelous than May.
Get out and wander.
Even if it makes you sneeze.