OK, winter did quite the job of extending not only into April, but also running right through it and into May. Clouds, a chill wind, piles of wet snow were the abnormal norm. I, like you, have been longing for warmth and spring flowers, and was not, as my mother would say, all sweetness and light, myself, during this period.
But I am concerned about how we reacted to the delayed spring, believing as I do that the amount of suffering it brought was small potatoes compared to that associated with climate hijinks to come. Trying to brace up a group of friends complaining about the unusual cold and late snow, I said, “But look how resilient we are!” They were dumbfounded. “Resilient? You have got to be kidding,” their faces said. I’m sure they thought I’d gone mad.
In the recent issue of Orion Magazine an essay called “The Discontent of Our Winter” caught my eye. It is by Sandra Steingraber, who is a PhD scientist and a writer. She says her kids, who are in middle school, are part of the last generation who will remember “a stable, predictable procession of seasons.” She says they reminisce “about the days before winter went bad.”
She is referring to the mild winters they have had in New York in recent years, which may be hard to sympathize with right now, given our not-so-mild spring. I’m sure many people here are scoffing about global warming, but that term is misleading. A more accurate one is global climate disruption. The Arctic ice cap, which helps regulate global weather, has melted at an alarming rate, due to the carbon dioxide we have spewed into the atmosphere. We are facing not a consistent, positive trend (“warming” sounds pretty good right now) but instead a careening mash-up of harsh weather, a mess, like the record flooding in Duluth last year and then the persistent drought statewide.
At the end of her essay Steingraber recounts a conversation with her son. He says he is sad because the planet is dying. She tells him she is working really hard to save it, and then she cries. She writes that she cries “not only because my son believes himself to be alive on a dying planet, but because all the generations of parents before mine have been unable to deal with the facts and mount a response of sufficient scale to solve the problem, meaning that all of us now have a monumental task before us.”
So how are we going to perform this monumental task if a little snow in April overwhelms us? How are we going to build resilience?
When I think back over recent weeks I realize certain things helped me cope. One is our golden retriever, Anya, who loves snow. That it has come in spring is meaningless to her. It does not reduce her joy. When we let her out back, after we’d gotten yet more wet inches, she pranced, she nosed the stuff, and she flopped over on her side and rolled back and forth. I couldn’t help but laugh. Her reaction took the edge off the prolonged winter for me.
Another joy I had during April was observing the birds come back. I heard a red-winged blackbird trill on my first bike ride of the season, on April 8. That same day I saw a pair of hooded mergansers, stunning black and white birds. They swam in a small pool of open water on the east side of the mostly frozen Lake Calhoun.
I saw my first great blue heron of the season on a walk around Lake Harriet on April 13. I saw ovenbirds, buffleheads, and a pied billed grebe there on April 23, and horned grebes and a flock of red-breasted mergansers on April 25. I saw my first kingfisher on April 27, and a dozen loons on Lake Calhoun on April 30. These bird sightings wove a thread of hopefulness through the month. Spring, indeed, whatever the weather, was arriving.
Another joy for me has been watching my plants come up. First the earliest stuff: the chives, the rhubarb, the French sorrel, the tulips, the crocuses. Then the clematis shoots, the Jacob’s ladder, the trillium. Then the apple tree buds, which hold both leaves and flowers, which swell and burst.
But the key thing that lifted my spirits was the warm company of the people in my life: my husband, daughter, extended family, and friends. Twice in April we had big gatherings around our table for dinner, and we lingered afterward, talking. Wise people are urging us to strengthen our connections to one another now, which will build resiliency, and help us manage the big changes to come.
Mary Jean Port writes at home, near Minnehaha Creek and Lake Harriet, and teaches at the Loft Literary Center.