Wild City // Spring fever

It isn’t just pounds we put on in the winter. We put on years. Temporarily.

Everybody looks older. This metamorphosis defies the supposed linear nature of time. Hair flattened to our heads from knit hats, skin dry and crinkly, crows feet forming from squinting against the sun’s glare off snow, we dress in lumpy layers, and hobble around on icy walks.

We revert to our true age once spring comes.

Perhaps it is spring fever that brings us back. A difficult concept to define, one that is more metaphorical than medical, spring fever can mean an increase or a decrease in energy, or an increase in a sense of wellbeing occurring along with bouts of irritability. It is called a fever only because it can involve intense excitement.

I love the sound of the German word for spring fever, “Frühjahrsmüdigkeit.” It means, “spring tiredness.” The syllable “mud” in the German word sounds like “mood;” both mud and mood, in English, signify spring.

I suppose it was spring fever that inspired me on March 16 to put the cushions on a patio chair and bask in the backyard sun, still in winter coat and hat, feet propped on a snowbank footstool. Looking around, my dog frolicking before me, I noticed a cluster of tulip sprouts that had just emerged, the first living things in our garden this year. They looked like lipsticks poking out of the ground, or a like woman’s red painted fingers.

That day the snow was still white and had a nice granular quality. Today our backyard is a grey mess of humpy wet ice studded by dark mounds of emerging dog poop.

Winter, with its long nights, suggests old age, sleep and death, yet it is spring that feels dark to me. For years I’ve wondered how this could be so. Some musings:

Spring is intermittent. We get it, true, but then we lose it. Winter comes back for a bit longer.

Spring is hard to read. There are contradictory signals: The robin on the icy bough, the “V” of geese overhead in a snowstorm.

Spring is so positive, associated as it is with sun, warmth, flowers, love, ease. Anything with that much good in it has to have a vital shadow side.

Spring is about birth. Birth is exciting and miraculous. It is also messy and dangerous, and there is resistance involved.

Spring is about rebirth. As we turn from winter to spring, we know some aspect of us has gone under and now it badly needs to be coaxed out and nurtured. But we’ve been hunkered down, and we want to remain coiled.

Spring seems to be about youth, but really it is about time passing. Just look to the woods. Few things are as fleeting as spring wildflowers. They are referred to, of course, as ephemerals.

If you don’t go out tromping during the couple of weeks a particular flower is in bloom, you have to wait a whole year to see it. You will have missed out on the tender loveliness of purple hepatica, or the shyness of the bloodroot, with its slender white petals and cupping palm-shaped leaf.

Spring is about work. If you love gardening like I do this is not something to groan about. Garden chores feel natural to me. I go out and look the garden over, trying to perceive what needs my attention on that day. And then I do it.

Still, at the end of the season I feel released.

I noticed yesterday that the rabbits had nibbled off one of my tulip sprouts, so I went to the garden store and got some blood meal to sprinkle around. I put whirly-gigs in the ground. That means the garden season began at our house on March 20 this year, and will continue for six or seven months. I am the caretaker of hundreds of individual lives, and they won’t all make it. I will toil. I will suffer loss.

Once, years ago, a neighbor’s son removed their old arborvitae by hooking a chain to it and pulling it out with his pickup. He dragged the uprooted shrub over our boulevard, pulling out and ripping apart my annuals. I stood there afterward looking at the munched up plants and the striated dirt and said to no one in particular, “Why do I love things that are so vulnerable?”

Spring is about sex. The articles I read about spring fever refer only to men’s renewed libido in spring. There is no mention of women’s libido. This surprises me.

Spring is the satisfaction of a longing, but it is pleasant to long for something. Once you get that thing, then what?

Mary Jean Port writes at home, near Minnehaha Creek and Lake Harriet, and teaches at The Loft Literary Center.