“It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want—oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!” Mark Twain
This morning I slammed my finger in the side door on the way out of the house to walk Audrey to school. I’m not sure it wasn’t the surprise of the warm air. It’s the second day in the 70’s here. Last week it was snowing. Even though I love the warm weather, I have a hard time adjusting so quickly. I still wear three layers on the way up to school as I hold a cat-shaped icepack on my throbbing finger- a t-shirt, a thin sweater, and my down vest. It’s hard to let the layers go.
People have already started telling me they’re busy planning their kids’ summer break activities. A catalog comes in the mail just now from Crate and Barrel, “Make Your House a Summerhouse” is the caption over a photo of white french doors and woven chair with a basket of flowers lying beside it. I laugh to myself because only a few months ago these same stores were showing us how to make our homes cozy “holiday houses.” It’s always amazing to me the commercial push to transform one’s whole house according to the season. I’m all for adding decorations or spring cleaning, but making my home look like the set from Home Alone just because it’s Christmas, or reupholstering in white and trading shag carpets for sisal in summer would mean a lot of unnecessary fanfare and money. A few stems of daffodils on the kitchen island will have to do.
My relationship to the seasons is complex. Before Dan died, a sense of dread always came over me around late September, early October. I definitely experienced a winter depression each year and I came to anticipate it; in the spring, I was elated at the first signs of blossoming trees. When he died in the middle of the summer, the fall and the changing colors of the leaves caused more than a sense of dread in me. The first time someone commented on the leaves starting to change, I felt sick to my stomach. Life, time, was really going to move forward- even if I resisted- even if I felt ordinary time had stopped in July and dropped me off in an ulterior universe. That whole first year the seasons felt fake and put on like the set of a play.
Later, as Audrey grew a bit, I found the traditions and rhythm of the seasons hugely comforting. Before she started preschool, the days stretching out in front of us were long and unstructured. But in the fall, we could hang up vellum paper leaves on the sliding glass doors. In winter- paper snowflakes. I created a small nature table in the Waldorf school style and the table, with its base of rocks and pine cones, changed to reflect the seasons. I also changed the books on display in her “little library” as well- a beautiful picture book depicting Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” in winter along with other snowy favorites, books about flowers and rain in the spring. The changing seasons were proof that the earth still revolved around the sun. They were just enough of a compass to guide me into the overwhelming years of life ahead of me. Winter, spring, summer, fall: simple enough to teach a preschooler- and a woman in her thirties whose life had been leveled.
Today the relationship has changed yet again. The simple rituals of a nature table and picture books have been replaced by the elementary school years which are quickly erupting into meltdowns over the social strata of seven year old girls and the struggle of nightly piano practice. Time quickens its pace. Each school year goes by in a sprint of back to school clothes, Halloween costumes, Christmas presents, handmade Valentine’s cards, green bagels at the class party for St. Patrick’s Day…and then come these warm days.
When the warm days come, I no longer feel euphoric like I did in young adulthood. I am unprepared. I am vulnerable. Maybe that’s why I keep my layers on for a while. The few months of winter have become a respite from time that seems to pick up speed the closer we get to the sun. I have high hopes I can rest there for a while- that somehow winter can serve as that still point of the turning world T.S. Eliot speaks of: “Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards, Neither ascent nor decline.”For a little while I’m buffered by cold temperatures, snow, and ice. It’s acceptable to stay home. I imagine each winter I’ll tackle so many projects: photo albums, redecorating, writing a book- and I do make progress- but then these sudden warm days come- and with them I am propelled towards another school year, another birthday for me, for her. Another year without him.
There are many theories as to why time moves faster as you age. The ratio theory makes a lot of sense. When you’re smaller each piece of time is a much greater percentage of your lifetime. The longer you live, the smaller each portion of time in comparison. Another theory is that when we’re older our lives are more routine and have less new experiences. William James said that fewer “firsts” and memorable events cause “the days and weeks [to] smooth themselves out…and the years grow hollow and collapse.”
When I was young, I always felt the effects of spring fever- that ache that Twain talks about in the quote above. It was like falling in love, but with no known object. Now the ache is there- but it’s more because of what James says- the smoothing out- the growing hollow. “Another day…we’re getting there…” the crossing guard always says to me when I’m on my way back from dropping her off, heading home. “Yup, another day.” “Only through time time is conquered,” said Eliot. This morning the weather is such that it actually feels hard to go back inside- so I sit on my steps for a few minutes in my sweater and vest, the ice pack now soft and molded to my finger. Then I walk back down to the end of the driveway. I see the woman who owns the flower shop on the corner setting out the trays of flowers on the wooden scaffolding for people to buy. In fall they sell apples and mums. In late November they hang up the wooden sign about the arrival of their Christmas trees. And now- impatiens and forget me nots, petunias, begonias.