Spring is a Time for Awakening

Maple ree flowers and leaves 1Though I am fonder of some than of others, for me every season has its unique blessings. Autumn has always been a favorite of mine because I like the crispness of the air and the vivid colors that paint the scenery. However, the cycle of the seasons produces different feelings in everyone and we all have our favorites. It may be that as a poet I am more sensitive to or pay more attention to the change of the seasons because I feel it so keenly. Winter for me is a time for rest and often for extra sleep. The dark hours encourage it. During the winter, like the bare branched trees and the hibernating creatures, I am less active and more inclined to quieter occupations.

It’s easy to sleep late in the winter. The light does not come through the curtains until morning is well advanced. Chilly weather does not encourage leaving warm covers for frigid floors. Yet as the light hours grow longer and the dark ones shorter, the day calls to me sooner and sooner. Reluctant as I may be to get up from my bed, it becomes less alluring to linger than to rise into the day. Even as the trees and the birds greet the brightening weeks, with the spring, something in me begins to wake up.

Winter encourages me to make soups and stews. My pantry and refrigerator are stocked with warming foods. With the advance of spring I think more about salads and lighter meals. I toss the cold weather recipes that I have accumulated yet not found time to make and clip out more recent ones geared to fresher, less sturdy meal components. Now that I can see it, when I look around at the winter dust on shelves and surfaces, I feel more diligent about eliminating it. Somehow when I can’t see it, it is so much easier to ignore. Now it no longer is.

When I was out and about, my eyes had become accustomed to bare trees sleeping in the cold. All winter I admired the still shapes of the bare branches against the sky. Now as the trees blossom and leaf out, they seem to be dancing with joy. The spring breezes flutter the trees’ new emerging clothing as they dress themselves in their fresh spring wardrobes. When I go about my errands, my heart sings along with the turning wheels of my car.

When I used visit my daughter in Italy, she would come into my room of a morning to waken me from my jet-lagged sleep. She would open the curtains and turn to me as I clung to my pillow. “Wakey, wakey,” she’d say with a smile. Finally I’d open my eyes and greet the day, glad to be awake and alive, ready for a new adventure. Spring feels like that. It is time to pursue the new, the untried, the innovative. Time to put away the darker, heavier winter clothes and put on light, bright colors and fabrics, to free the feet of boots and don sandals. Time to awaken to the new season and to rejoice in it.

Rejoicing in the Advent of Spring

dogwood blssoms 2Spring arrives in a dilatory fashion. Like fall, it is a back and forth season. In addition, some years spring arrives early, sneaking up on us and forcing us to get out our warm-weather clothes much sooner than we think we are going to need them. In another year like this one, we begin to feel weary of our winter wardrobe and yearn for the spring clothes still put away in closets or storage places. There is no telling when the weather will change. Spring is a fickle season, whether daily or yearly. I have written a lot of poetry about the way spring behaves.

I am fond of fall. I have written a lot of poetry about that season also. It is actually my favorite of the four. As it begins I delight in the cool crisping of the air, especially welcome after the moist heat of August. However, fall does not have the same kind of excitement to it that spring does. Fall colors are loud and obvious. The autumn brilliance blares from the hillsides like the brass in an orchestra. Spring is delicate; violins and flutes, with an occasional clarinet announce the softly evolving colors that slowly permeate the landscape. Where fall is blatant, spring is subtle.

These days as I drive along the roads between towns I enjoy watching the ends of the tree branches slowly green and redden, highlighting their tracery against the sky. There is a maple outside my bedroom that’s the first thing I see when as I open the curtains. Lately I have been watching the ends of the twigs turn green and then begin to unfold into maple flowers. I know these will in turn eventually fall and produce the seeds we call maple keys. Do children still peel the ends open and stick them on their noses as I remember doing?

Spring is an opportunity to get out and enjoy a walk. It is a treat to amble along the sidewalks of my town’s neighborhoods and see the flowers springing up in the gardens around town. Daffodils and jonquils, hyacinths and tulips abound with their lovely colors. The magnolia trees with their glorious pink and white flowers along with the dogwoods that come into bloom make me feel almost giddy with their generous bouquets of blossoms. How happy the bees must be to put an end to their long winter nap and emerge into activity.

The blooming of the lovely spring trees and flowers is also apt to stir up allergies in those who are vulnerable to them. This makes the spring season a lot less pleasant for some. Stephen and I have been fortunate to have the help of homeopathic remedies that alleviate the discomfort and sometimes even eliminate it. Still, the loveliness of the season may be some consolation to allergy sufferers. I am so glad to see the arrival of spring. Early or late no matter how long it has taken once it gets here all is forgiven, winter is forgotten, and we can rejoice in the glorious beauty of spring.

 

Dust is Visible in the New Light of Spring

Spring water           One day years ago as a relatively new bride I returned to the apartment I shared with my then husband and our baby to find my father sweeping the rug.

“What are you doing?” I asked him.

“Cleaning the rug,” he replied.

“Oh,” I said. I didn’t have a vacuum and didn’t know any other way to clean the rug. Now I did. I had never seen anyone sweep a rug before. My dear father smiled at me and suggested that perhaps Santa might provide me with a vacuum. I don’t remember if he did or not, but my father bought me my first washing machine some years later. He was a generous man. Also, I never saw him do any cleaning in the home I grew up in, so his sweeping was a great revelation to me. I have never learned to love housework but I have learned to do it more efficiently–except for dusting.

While I welcome spring and the new light it brings, I also recognize the need to dust. The new brighter light coming from a sun now, in the Northern Hemisphere, higher in the sky shines on all the surfaces in our apartment that have been neglected over the winter. Dusting is not my specialty. I have a tendency to get impatient or careless and damage or knock over items on shelves and surfaces. Stephen is far better at dusting than I, and thankfully he is willing to do it—in his own time. Sometimes this means waiting a bit.

Spring cleaning has a long, honorable history. I am thankful I do not have to haul my rugs out, drape them over a clothesline and beat them with a rug beater. These are now antiques. I remember them as being woven out of wood, like baskets, in the shape of several round circles intertwined. They had handles and were sufficiently sturdy to raise the dust from the rug and into the air to land heaven knows where—hopefully not back on the rug.

Before central heating or cleaner electricity and oil as opposed to wood fireplaces and coal furnaces, a good housewife washed down room walls every spring to remove grime from smoky fires and particles of soot delivered from heating vents. I remember coal being delivered to a coal bin in the cellar every fall. Now an oil burner has replaced that coal furnace. Cobwebs too needed to be removed. Windows had to be washed. Ammonia was in common use for cleaning them in days gone by. Horrid stuff! Now a vinegar/water spray does the job.

I am grateful for my vacuum cleaner, for the size of my apartment that needs much less work to clean than either of my past houses, and for a helpful husband who is willing to clean with me. The only thing I remember my dad cleaning was the silver. He polished it all himself because my mother would not. It is also true that we often had a cleaning person come; yet sadly it was my mother’s nature never to be satisfied no matter how well the job was done. I am grateful both that it’s not a hundred years ago, and that spring is on the way.

 

Celebrating the New Season of Life

Peacae Village Forsythia 1When I was a young child Easter was an exciting time. I got to wear new clothes and a big straw hat. I remember one with a pretty grosgrain ribbon around it. The ribbon hung down in the back and in my memory it is blue. At Christmas and Easter we attended my father’s church as well as my mother’s. I liked his best. Not only did they sing hymns but also at Easter geraniums lined the church driveway for children like me to take home after the service. Then we would go to a relative’s for lunch and there would be candy after dessert. My mother did not approve of candy so we seldom had it at home unless someone brought it. That was my Easter celebration.

Easter and spring are synonymous. From time immemorial people have found ways to celebrate the coming of the warmer, lighter days and the passing of the dark, cold ones. When primitive cultures worshipped personalities that embodied seasons, they honored their gods and goddesses of spring, summer, fall and winter. Celebrations throughout the world centering on spring, especially in cold climates, had much in common with today’s Christian Easter.

The rising of Christ from the dead ends the period of self-deprivation or fasting known as Lent. The rebirth of the garden and the growth of new life is echoed in the Christian Easter observance. In the days before refrigeration and supermarkets, because the garden and the fields were bare and brown Lent was observed willy-nilly. In the cold climates all there was to eat were stored, dried vegetables, roots and grains. Nothing green was available. The growth of the first plants was something to be hailed as individuals foraged and found fresh vegetable matter to eat after the long winter months.

There was great cause to rejoice in the coming of the longer light and the warmer days. Different cultures evolved their own observances centering around their own deities and beliefs. Many of these customs have come down to us and are part of our observances today. The ways we celebrate our Easter, similar to our Christmas celebrations have become a conglomeration of the various cultures from which we derive our present day civilization. However they are all a reflection of the original reasons to celebrate: the coming of a time of growth and renewal after a period of hardship and sacrifice.

These customs all contain the affirmation that growth and change will proceed uninterrupted, and that the ultimate harvest will be a good one. The bunny that brings the Easer basket is Germanic in origin, a favorite of the goddess of spring. The symbolic eggs too come from there, as well as from other places representing symbols of new life. When you buy marshmallow Peeps or chocolate eggs, you echo the innocence of that beginning. The purchase of new clothes too is symbolic as is the Easter feast common to most families. What seems meaningful is not how we celebrate but that as from time immemorial we acknowledge the wonderful coming of warmer weather and brighter days for all.

Easter Eggs are More than Just Food

A favorite memory I have of Easter is of dying my eggs using onion skins. For weeks I saved up the papery wrappings of the outside of the onions. Now it was time to put them to use. Using string I secured the onion skins to my eggs and set them on to boil. The results were quite lovely and I was grateful to my friend Maggie for sharing her knowledge of how eggs were originally colored in her native homeland.

Eggs have always had mythological significance. The oldest recorded writings the Vedas of India, say the world evolved from a cosmic egg. According to Wikepedia other mythologies featuring creation and eggs include the Egyptian, the Phoenician, the Greek, the Chinese and the Finnish. As all life hatches from eggs—whether those of mammals or of egg layers, it make perfect sense that a holiday that began as a fertility celebration would feature them.

Easter is essentially a spring festival. The Christian expression of it also relates to life and generation of which eggs are a symbol. Red dyed eggs have been found buried at Bronze Age sites. These were surely connected to the worship of the pre-Christian deity, the goddess in charge of spring farm and field fertility. The name Easter derives from the name Eostre, the Anglo Saxon goddess of spring or Ostara the Germanic version of the goddess’s name.

How the rabbit came to be associated with Easter and eggs is another story. A rabbit relative associated with the goddess, the hare a strong, somewhat fierce animal is nocturnal and its babies unlike those of rabbits are born with eyes open. Some say the figure on the surface of the moon is that of a hare. The hare has also been associated with the moon because its gestation period is the same 28 days. Thus the goddess’s sacred animal came to be part of Easter.

Despite their differences, the hare became a rabbit when Germans immigrated to the United States in the 1600s and settled in Pennsylvania, spreading out from there to the surrounding states. Their Easter celebrations did not catch on right away, however, because of the stronger puritan influence that suppressed what was thought to be essentially too pagan in its expression. It is most likely that children envious of Easter goodies and fun influenced the universality of the celebration so that eventually it spread everywhere.

Easter eggs continue to be important and many households will overflow with them after the holidays. My favorite way to use hard boiled Easter eggs is in egg salad sandwiches. This recipe is for 6 eggs. I don’t peel them but instead break them in half and scoop out the insides. Chop and mash with ½ cup mayonnaise, 1 teaspoon tarragon, Salt, pepper, a tablespoon or more of horseradish sauce and ½ teaspoon of dry mustard. Add ¼ cup finely chopped celery, and ¼ cup finely chopped onion. If you like curry flavor, add a teaspoon or so to taste.

Spring Is Making Its Way

Blue flowers and stone wallWhen spring comes, like the creatures in the woods and fields, I feel as though I am beginning to wake up after a time of hibernation. I want to get out doors and spend more time in the light. I welcome the brightness that comes in through the windows even though it also shows the accumulation of dust that is so easy to miss in the dimmer light of winter. I get out of bed more eagerly, most likely because the sky is brighter when I do. Spring also brings me memories of what it was like for me when I was a child and the seasons were more defined by what we ate as well as what we did.

Growing up I spent much of my time out of doors. My mother believed the fresh air was good for me. As well she wanted me to be active rather than sit with my nose in a book. Whenever the weather was relatively decent, neither raining, snowing nor windy and cold, I was sent out doors to play. I grew up in the country on a property that belonged to my great aunt Alice, with a good bit of land to it. Thus I could wander to my heart’s content in the fields and marshes that surrounded her large house and our cottage.

When the spring came and the ice receded from the marsh, I would trek about looking for interesting objects that the sea might have delivered during a winter storm. Once I discovered a large log, perhaps three feet or more in diameter that formed an interesting place to play. Another time I found a pane of glass with a lovely blue design on it that was yellow on the underneath. Thinking back I can see it still. It was probably once part of a picture frame. Sadly one day it disappeared, as did the log I liked so much.

Spring also meant there was more daylight time after school to play out of doors. As I wandered around, I made up all sorts of stories in which I imagined myself having some kind of an adventurous part. Although I had no one to play with I was good company for myself, and my active imagination helped me to create all sorts of fun. I was alone but never lonely. Being on our own property I was completely safe as well. It seemed to me that I had a little kingdom all my own to enjoy. Spring brought new opportunities for adventures as well as the chance to be by myself with no one to tell me what to do.

My brother lives in the house we grew up in and whenever I visit with him I marvel at how much smaller the property seems to me now. Too, the days seem far shorter than they did when I was a child, when Saturdays especially seemed to hold endless hours in which to enjoy myself. I greeted the advent of spring with joy because it meant I could get out and explore the surrounding fields and marsh in search not only of adventure but also of signs of the new growth that spring would bring to share with me.

A Sip of Spring in January

spring-water

The school I attended as a child had no weeks of vacation between Christmas and March. I had little to look forward to except an occasional snow day or being home sick with a cold. Not that I liked being home sick—my mother was not one to allow me to “enjoy poor health” as she put it. This meant I was confined to bed without much to do and no pampering. The best I could expect was an opportunity to listen to the radio. Television didn’t arrive in our household until I was twelve. The winter days were dreary with school and homework. I didn’t like skiing and skating was no fun so I spent my free time indoors reading. The advent of spring at least meant I could spend more time outside.

There is a deceptively warm period in the first month of the year called the January thaw. It usually comes at the end of the month, but sometimes earlier. It is the opening note of a long prelude to spring. Sadly, it raises hopes too soon dashed. February sets in, the snow falls, the cold descends, and winter reminds us that we have a long way to go. The upside is that at least the days are longer and brighter as the sun grows stronger and shines from higher in the sky. The burgeoning light keeps us apprised of spring’s actual advent.

Expectations often create disappointment. However it is difficult to avoid having them. The anticipation that is the creator of my expectations is what happens when I yearn toward something that is just out or reach or even beyond my control, like spring. This habit begins in childhood. Once we outgrow the present moment mindset of our early years, we are vulnerable to it. For instance, when the circus was coming to town it was a big event in my young life. My grandmother always took me and every year I loved it.

The difficulty with anticipation, especially when one is an adult, is that it can suck the juice out of the actual event. A few years ago Stephen and I took a friend’s two children to a local circus in a town nearby. Based on my memories of Barnum and Bailey, I had unrealistic expectations of the little circus and did not enjoy it nearly as much as I would have otherwise. On the other hand the two children we took had a wonderful time. Unexpectedly, my enjoyment ended up being about that rather than about the performances.

Today in the news I saw that the circus of my childhood—Barnum and Bailey, will be no more. This may have started I suppose when they released the elephants and now they are disbanding completely. I wonder if those who like me once anticipated the arrival of the circus will be disappointed. I haven’t been to a Barnum and Bailey performance in many years myself, however I have my memories. Thankfully I can sip those memories whenever I wish. That’s the blessing of memories, like food in the pantry or the refrigerator they are available when I wish to reach for them. Memories of spring, however, cannot compare to its actual advent, and that I eagerly await.

Tasha Halpert