Every year, spring shows up like a surprise party. I spend the winter in a midwest funk of grey on grey on dirty brown, trudging through alley slush and tensing my muscles against hidden ice, head down, every slog a sigh.
And then one morning, I wake up and see the sun sliver its light through the curtain, and I go downstairs to find my children are in short sleeves, their bare arms the same beautiful smooth gift I treasured each spring when they were tiny. Now they’re sparkling teenagers, up before me, deep into videos and social media before I can stumble down the stairs each morning — but I still treasure those bare arms, the pieces of them I forgot over the long winter, more skin to marvel over.
They used to live inside me, those arms.
Outside, sun shines brightly, and a check of the weather forecast tells me those short sleeves are audacious choices still, but not so audacious as they would have been last week. And maybe, just maybe, today is the day for my first non-treadmill run of the year.
I’ve been running through these streets for years now, my several courses predictable, but every spring I greet them like old friends. Some of them are sporting new spring growth, different from last year. Were there always bright purple flowers in that shady patch? Are they volunteers or did they get planted last spring or did I forget them?
I jog past the spot where I tripped, twice, two summers ago, busting open my palms and knees, abrasions that healed and then ripped open again, the second time. My skin there had gone from Eastern-European-pale to tinged with red flecks, bumpy and uneven but bright. I lay there, both times, feeling for my inhaler even though I knew that this was not asthma but startled-spasmed diaphragm, reacting to the fall on my stomach I’d broken with those hands and knees. Red hands meant my ribs didn’t crack. Intact ribs meant no trip to the emergency room, no re-traumatizing of my daughter who hated hospitals and their smells and sounds, who’d suffered through enough hospital energy that I’d sacrifice even more pale palm and knee skin to keep her from having to go there again, even just for me.
Now, I remember the uneven sidewalk and move from grey cement to newly-green, soft grass, littered with the winter’s discarded candy wrappers. The parkway green is soft, damp with melted snow and recent rain. My bright blue sneakers get deeper blue, and when I run them all the way to the lake to stand on the beach, they collect sand on the bottoms, the yellow sun mixing blue and tan. I turn off the music in my headphones and stand at the edge, panting, absorbing color and sound.
One year, searching through my running photos for anything to keep hope alive during a long, hard winter, I found a photograph from further north on this stretch of lake, a dawn that arrived in the shape of a woman. I run past this beach and see that shape even hours too late, even at noon, even at night.
Everything is growing. It happens every year and every year it’s like unwrapping gift after gift. There – a magnolia is opening as I watch! There — a flower has ducked its head down, so far that when I crouch in the dirt to try to photograph its center, all I can get is its forlorn underside, striped with sun through the fence. There — a bush is releasing its green buds, ridged with a red that will fade but, for now, is soaking up the sudden warm.
Blue. Yellow. All the spring colors are present and accounted-for, and so am I, and so are my daughters, though I was never sure they would be. Every spring is a gift. Every bare arm on the first warm midwest day is an invitation to surrender my grey. Though the sun of summer will be warmer, deeper, and brighter, I will become complacent about it. Though the flowers of summer will offer more colors, will be in denser patches, will spring up over and over and be far more abundant, I won’t be jolted into gratitude in the same way.
It’s no wonder the poets loved spring. There’s “in Just-“ and “I thank you g-d for most this amazing” by e.e. cummings and “These, I, Singing in Spring” by Walt Whitman, but this lovely one by Ella Higginson is the one that captures me the most:
by Ella Higginson
Ah, who is this with twinkling feet,
With glad, young eyes and laughter sweet,
Who tosses back her strong, wild hair,
And saucy kisses flings to Care,
The while she laughs at her? Beware—
You who this winsome maiden meet!
She dances on a daisied throne,
About her waist a slender zone
Of dandelion’s gold; her eyes
Are softer than the summer skies,
And blue as violets; and lies
A tearful laughter in her tone.
She reaches dimpled arms and bare;
Her breath is sweet as wild-rose air;
She sighs, she smiles, she glances down,
Her brows meet in a sudden frown;
She laughs; then tears the violets drown—
If you should meet her—ah, beware!
If you haven’t been outside on a warm midwest April day, I recommend it.