Dangerous. There is definite danger here, in all this sun and warmth. There is a quickening, along with a need to bask. A contradiction, yes, but both desires fight for an outlet in this suddenly changing and warming world.
There’s more light now, and of a different kind. Winter light is watery and weak, a pale shade of yellow that barely illuminates a world that has been leached of color. It is all grays and browns and pale, pale yellow. Here in March, the light seems to stretch in its intensity. Sunsets stain the sky with peach and purple and rose-gold; a Maxfield Parrish canvas that glows from within. There is an impatience this time of year, a hurry-up-gotta-go-gotta-move kind of feeling, a heady mix of rising temperatures, rich, loamy smells and a return of glorious color.
The orange signs are back. They litter every roadway from here to there, and back again. They trumpet the return of Chicago’s other season: not winter, but construction. They promise delay in the guise of improvement. No matter; with the return of warm weather, the roads are clogged to capacity anyway, a rush of humanity intent on breaking out of their self-imposed hibernation, intent on basking in speed and exhaust and sunlight, grateful to be anywhere that is outside, that is away, that is not layered under mounds of outerwear and cocooned in underwear.
All of a sudden, people once again fill the roads, the parks, the paths and the sidewalks. Their thoughts turn to visions of growing things and churning rich, black soil, to open flames of gas grills and open windows in cars. They move faster, they smile more. They talk about spring. Incessantly. On and on and on. They chatter in their excitement, a steady, buzzy drone of the wonders of things to come.
The problem, and it’s one of astronomical proportions, is that it is March. March, in the Midwest. It is not spring. Not here. And no matter what the calendar says, no matter that the equinox happens on March 20 (give or take), no matter that I drove with the windows rolled down today, it is not spring, and it won’t be for months.
You heard me: months.
This thaw, this blip on the space-time continuum, is nothing more than Mother Nature’s tease. It happens every year: a thaw, brief and intense and intoxicating as wine, that allows crocuses to bloom and barbeques to smolder, that lulls us into a sense that we have broken the back of winter at last— this thaw comes in on a breeze, leaving us hopeful and stumbling out of our dormancy. Then, quick as breath, as warmth and light— it’s gone, leaving us once more in the grips of a lingering, bone-chilling winter.
We gasp in disbelief, year after year. Wait, we cry, it was spring; I swear it was. I walked without a coat! I felt the warmth of the sun! Where the hell did this snow come from? We midwesterners forget the lingering death of winter. We forget that temperatures will rise and fall on a dime until long after the groundhog checks out its chubby silhouette. The trees may bud, a thin patina of green may creep stealthily onto dormant shrubs and trees, but leaves don’t burst forth until mid-May. Tulips and daffodils be damned: spring is still a far distant shore.
And yet: I drove home with the windows rolled down and felt the warmth of the sun on my face. I know that winter merely plays hide and seek with its cousin spring. I know that the cold will slither in on bitter winds off the Lake, and snow will again skitter madly down torn-up roads and pile against orange and white construction barrels.
But I’ll take this warmth, this breath of spring. I’ll store it up, and wait, with growing impatience, like Persephone, until I am released from winter’s captivity to bask briefly in the glory of warmth and light and spring.