Just 3 days ago, March 31st, the weather here in Toronto remained cold and grey as it has been for much of this season. “It’s the worst it’s been in 75 years,” a neighbor complained to me as we were leaving our building. The interminable gray has, with little surprise, not only been irritating, but monotonous and dreary. “I feel like one of the children on Slimer’s Isle,” I said to a friend, referring to Mordecai Richler’s delightful children’s book, Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang (1975). In it, the hero, Jacob, age six, is sent to Slimer’s Isle for punishment, a place where children never see the sun. I’ve felt, many days this winter, similarly imprisoned by the relentless grey.
I daydream of the springtime of my childhood in Northern California. It seemed as if the crocuses were right on schedule, poking their heads through the soil on March 21st, the first day of Spring. Tulips and daffodils soon followed, and, the fields behind our home were bright with yellow poppies and purple lupin within weeks. For a child, the air seemed alive with promise and new adventures, and our world was not only full of new like, but it was “puddle wonderful” …
spring when the world is mud-
and eddie and bill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s
when the world is puddle- wonderful
…hop scotch and jump-rope and
(From: [in-Just] by e.e. cummings, Complete Poems)
I checked the weather prediction for the first day of April. The prediction was for partly cloudy skies with four hours of sunshine, occasional rain. I hoped it was not the weatherman’s some kind of joke, because the temperature was predicted to rise to 12°C, and that was downright balmy by comparison the last few days of March. Even the anticipation of a partly sunny, mild day lifted my spirits a little.
Whether the life cycle or those of illness, the four seasons are powerful metaphors for the human experience. Marilyn Hacker’s 1994 collection, Winter Numbers, invoking the darkness and cold of winter, and detailing her breast cancer and the losses of friends to AIDS. Barbara Crooker’s poem, “For a Friend Lying in Intensive Care Waiting for her White Blood Cells to Rejuvenate after a Bone Marrow Transplant,” is a poem of hope that uses springtime, the season of rejuvenation and renewal, as its metaphor.
Seasonal changes affect our moods. Some of us may experience a seasonal depression that doctors think is related to changing levels of light—hence the grey skies and the grey moods of long winters. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s actually related to changes in seasons. It begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. These symptoms often resolve during the spring and summer months.
Other health conditions can also be affected by seasonal changes. A 2017 article from the Huffington Post described NIH studies on the relationships between changing seasons and physical health. The findings suggest that autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular events, acute gout, types 1 and 2 diabetes, hip fractures, migraines, and even emergency surgeries and mortality rates are affected by seasonal changes.
A couple of weeks ago, I complained to my daughter about the dreary weather drooping spirits, longing for the springtime of my childhood. “It’s ‘Farch,’ Mom,” she said, a term used here describe the winter months of February and March.. “I tell my students they just have to get through it every year at this time.” Easier said than done. I’ve fought the descent of the blues day after day.
On April 1st, however, we awakened to clear skies and sunshine, a day mild enough to walk in the afternoon with a light jacket instead of my winter coat. I felt energized, more alive and positive than I had for weeks. Hope, it seemed, is synonymous with Springtime.
“I can still bring into my body the joy I felt at seeing the first trillium of spring, which seemed to be telling me, “Never give up hope, spring will come.”—Jessica Stern, author
It’s little wonder that Springtime is intricately intertwined with hope, renewal, a sense of possibility and new beginnings. In his poem, “Today,” Billy Collins, former Poet Laureate of the U.S., describes the elation that Springtime brings:
If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
So uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze
That it made you want to throw
Open all the windows in the house…
(From: “Today,” in: Poetry Magazine, 2000)
There’s more that Springtime does for us: Anthony Scioli, PhD, (co-author of Hope in the Age of Anxiety, 2009), explored the relationship between hope and springtime in a 2012 Psychology Today article. “The healing potential of spring is undeniable, from affecting the remission of Seasonal Affective Disorder to the increased production of Vitamin D… involved in promoting bone health, proper cell differentiation, and boosting immunity. Like spring, hope is a potent ally in sustaining health and recovering from illness. Scioli noted that a recent survey of oncologists revealed that more than 90 percent cited hope as the primary psychological factor that impacts mortality.” (Italics mine)
In the poem, “For a Friend Lying in Intensive Care Waiting for Her White Blood Cells to Rejuvenate After a Bone Marrow Transplant,” by Barbara Crooker, Springtime is a metaphor for hope. Here is an excerpt:
The jonquils. They come back. They split the earth with
their green swords, bearing cups of light. ‘
The forsythia comes back, spraying its thin whips with
blossom, one loud yellow shout.
The robins. They come back. They pull the sun on the
silver thread of their song.
The iris come back. They dance in the soft air in silken
gowns of midnight blue.
The lilacs come back. They trail their perfume like a scarf
of violet chiffon.
And the leaves come back, on every tree and bush, millions
and millions of small green hands applauding your return.
(From: Selected Poems, 2015)
I’m applauding the return of Spring where I live, though some inclement days may come for a week or two. But I am already and feeling hopeful about what’s ahead. I am reminded of another favorite book, one written for children, but equally lovely for adults to enjoy. My copy is faded and dog-eared after years of reading it aloud to preschoolers as well as adults in my writing classes. The book’s title is simply, Frederick, by Leo Lionni and originally published in 1967.
Frederick is the story of a family of field mice preparing for winter. They busily gather and store nuts and straw in their burrow, preparing for the cold, dark days of the winter months. All but Frederick, who seems to doze in the sunlight. They chide him, but he explains that he is collecting sun rays and colors—his contributions to the winter supplies, “for the winter months are cold and dark.” And sure enough, it’s Frederick’s “supplies,” he shares in winter’s dark days, like the colors and sunrays he describes in his poems, that cheer and warm the mice, offering them hope too. “Why Frederick,” they chorus, “You’re a poet. Frederick blushes and says quietly, “I know it.”
- Have you experienced anything like Seasonal Affective Disorder during the winter months? How have you managed the blues of cold, grey winter days?
- Do you think Springtime synonymous with hope? Why or Why Not?
- Return to an earlier time in your life and the memories of how it felt to finally see Spring arrive. What excited you most?
- Write a short poem about Spring—explore the season’s sounds, sights, smells. Use images like “mud-luscious” or “puddle-wonderful” (as in e. e. cummings’ poem, [in Just] or any descriptions of Spring you’ve found and like.