17 April 2007

The Last Night Of Winter

When I was a boy growing up in Michigan, winter and I didn't get along very well. In fact there were times that it literally reduced me to tears.

Not always, of course. Like any kid, I was excited by the prospect of gigantic blizzards that might shut down school for days or weeks at a time (I think that in 12 years we might have had two or three snow days, if that), and every year until I was about 15, I'd flood the back yard and turn it into an ice rink where I'd play long and energetic hockey games against myself. I'm sure that other neighborhood kids joined in at times, but for some reason I mostly remember playing alone, singlehandedly impersonating the entire lineup of the Red Wings and their mortal foes, the Maple Leafs. Not surprisingly, the Red Wings pretty much always won, though I'd keep the games pretty close, and once in a while let the Leafs win for the sake of getting the Wings more fired up, or to draw out my personal replay of the Stanley Cup to a full seven games.

But usually by February or March I'd had more than enough of winter. I became especially aware of this the year that a drenching rainstorm followed by a sudden freeze turned a foot of snow into about six inches of solid ice that stayed with us for a month or more. I can still remember the chop-chop and clank-clank of shovels up and down the block - it went on for days - as people tried to clear enough of a path to get their cars out or simply to walk up to their front steps, and the delirious excitement greeting the spring thaw that finally allowed us to push the last of the hateful ice into the gutters and watch it be carried away down the storm drains.

Somewhere along the way I first heard the first line of T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland - though I had no idea at the time where it was from, and wouldn't find out until many years later when I discovered the entire opening stanza carved by a rather pretentious vandal into a sidewalk in Berkeley, California - and figured I knew exactly what the guy was talking about when he said "April is the cruelest month."

To me it meant the way April played bitter tricks on you, how you could look out your window, see the sun shining brightly, the buds and flowers all bursting forth against a backdrop of stunning green Easter grass, only to go dashing outdoors in just a t-shirt and jeans to discover that it was absolutely freezing. And then a few days later a stupendously summerlike day would come along; kids would be in their shorts and barefoot, tearing up and down the block flying kites, playing baseball, and screaming their heads off. The buds on the trees would see no need for holding back any longer, and the only fly in the ointment was that a full two months of school lay ahead of us before we'd be set free to enjoy this splendid weather everyday. And by the next morning a cold front would have blown down from Canada and the front yard with all its beautiful flowers and fresh green grass would be buried under snow again.

I was not a patient boy. One April, frustrated with how long it was taking my mother's tulips - my favorite flowers and to me a sure sign that the false spring was over and the real thing had arrived - were taking to open, I went around the back yard and forced open the buds with my tiny fingers. I was a bit disappointed at the lack of color they showed, but assumed that once they got a bit of sun the rather sallow-looking buds would emerge into their full glory. Instead a hard frost descended overnight, killing the lot of them. The Year We Had No Tulips should have taught me a lesson about patience and allowing things to unfold in their own time, but I'm not sure I ever fully learned it, as I've made similar mistakes repeatedly, especially with regard to work and relationships.

So I've tried not to get upset about the particularly cruel April we're enduring here in New York. Yesterday's torrential rains have finally gone, replaced by sullen skies, occasional showers, and a nasty north wind. Here I was trundling down to the Post Office to mail in my tax forms (well, my request for an extension thereon) and I'm bundled up in full winter regalia, down jacket, hoodie, hell, I was even wearing long underwear! Yet I've tried to maintain a stoic silence (though not succeeding very well, especially here on the blog), reminding myself that I chose to move here, and that this is nothing compared to what awaits me come next January. And that summer will be all the sweeter when it finally does arrive.

Which it will, I know, almost beyond a doubt. I only mention the "almost" because ever since learning as a boy about 1816, "The Year Without A Summer," I've lived in fear that it might happen again. And only just now, in the course of looking it up to see if I remembered it correctly, did I discover that the effects 0f the original YWAS were most pronounced - where else? - here in the American Northeast. Could history repeat itself? I remember a couple years ago when Al Gore earned himself a fair bit of ridicule for making one of his dire speeches about global warming on what turned out to be the coldest day New York had seen in a decade or two. Perhaps the planetary ecosystem, overwhelmed by the volume of hot air arising on the subject, is about to throw us enough of a curve to get everyone back to talking about the coming ice age.

This evening I was over in the Village, where the back streets were lined with trees just days away from bursting into full bloom, and I wanted to shout at them, "No, not yet, don't come out yet, you'll freeze to death and spring will never arrive this year!" But then I had the comforting feeling that they (the blossoms and the trees, that is) probably knew a good bit more about this winter-into-spring business than I did. It seemed so unfair, for the fledgling little flowers to be shivering in the chilly gale blowing in off the Hudson, but they're made of sterner stuff than I am, apparently, because not only were they blithely shrugging off the unseasonable cold; they were positively glowing with certainty that winter is well and truly on its way out of here.

In fact I decided then and there to declare this the last night of winter, even though the temperature's not predicted to struggle out of the 40s for a few days yet, even though I'm wearing several layers of clothing and hunched over my keyboard trying to soak up any spare warmth emerging from its CPU processor. A week or two from now and I'll be running around the city in shorts and sandals. Or not, but regardless of what the weather does, it will be summer in my heart.

1 comment:

Amy said...

Weather is the only thing that's making me double think my decision to move back to the midwest. I'm not planning on moving quite as far north as I originally lived in Michigan, or even to Michigan at all, but where I'm going still gets damn cold in the winter. I guess I don't mind the cold, I just hate it when I don't see the sun for months at a time. And I hate snow. It's cold and wet and a huge pain in the ass. Oh well...I'm moving anyway.