Home Commentary The Way I See It: The Promise and Paradox of Spring

The Way I See It: The Promise and Paradox of Spring

It’s mid-February in the northern woodlands. If you put your ear very close to the earth, you might hear her stirring. There is such a wild paradox in late winter. The threat of a nor’easter looms, yet I detect a distinct change in the resident avian chatter. I sense hope whispered or sung in the call of exuberant chickadees and piles of dirty snow lining the road.

This time of year can be tough for us northern dwellers. Whether change is whispered, sung or shouted, we are faced with another solid month of winter — and wintery conditions can prevail through April. I remember black bear tracks winding through fresh snow in my backyard in Middlesex one May morning many moons ago. Yes, we’re certainly in it for the long haul around here. I think of it as part of the price of admission for living in a place of exquisite beauty.

I watch friends fly off to Costa Rica or Panama and I might typically wonder why I missed that train. And yet … I’m actually okay with being here. A certain quiet contentment comes with the midlife package deal, and I’m discovering the joy in missing out (JOMO) rather than fear of missing out (FOMO). It’s certainly lovely to “escape” Vermont in late winter, and there is also a certain satisfaction in seeing it all the way through. Maybe that’s the stubborn New Englander in me.

Still recovering from a bout of COVID, I venture out onto the North Fayston Road for one of my regular afternoon walks. I listen carefully to “the world behind the world,” a phrase coined by philosopher Michael Meade to convey the hidden archetypal meaning beyond what is readily apparent. 

Beyond the hustle of the day and my familiar obligations, I do sense the first whispers of spring. It can’t be rushed, but I am not in much of a rush today either. The gift embedded in being sick for a few weeks was the invitation to slow down, rest into the remains of a mild winter and simply listen. The afternoon is quiet and slow, like me, and I amble, rather than rush, up the rugged mountainous road. 

I sense, under the dirty snow, ice and mud, the stirring of black bears, the longing of seeds and the rising of sap. I even ran into a Craftsbury native last weekend who was already in the thick of “boiling.” It certainly has come early this year. 

Perhaps the most remarkable harbinger of spring is the light, how the cotton candy pink of a mid-February sunset mimics a July evening. Nature likes to tempt and fool us like that. When I look down at my phone, I see a winter weather advisory for the night. Paradox.

On this particular afternoon out on the road, I was feeling a bit heavy. Yet, my spirit lifted and I had to chuckle when I noticed the town “plow.” Not a snow plow, but a mud plow. Yes, a guy from the town was going up and down our road, smoothing out the massive ruts and mud. 

Oddly, upon seeing this, I felt immediate relief. This smoothing of our otherwise practically impassible road smoothed out the wrinkles in my soul. It may be a reach, but somehow the mountain air, that hint of vernal equinox to come, and my bird friends chattering in the bleakness lifted my spirits. I waved with overly exuberant gratitude to the town road foreman and continued on my walk, a little lighter. 

We probably all know the feeling of winter mud within our souls. Or, perhaps the feeling of icy stagnation in our hearts. Always just in time for Valentine’s Day. Maybe it comes on as cabin fever and restlessness. Perhaps it’s a distinct longing to get out of Dodge or maybe it’s simply boredom. It surprised me that day how quickly my melancholy evaporated with the hum of a blade spreading and evening the muddy chocolate frosting on our road. 

As spring begins to arrive, slowly, almost imperceptibly, I wonder what you, dear reader, are feeling? I encourage you to keep some humor in your heart and look for the signs, no matter how subtle. The world behind the world awaits you, and spring will be here soon.