Weather Puritan: The Price of Spring

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The groundhog has slated us for an early spring. This may be good news.

Or not, depending on how much of a weather puritan you happen to be. In my book, spring follows winter. Winter includes snow and ice and chains on tires and long, cold nights. Spring is like a rich dessert. You have to earn it.

That’s how it seemed to me, anyway, growing up in the chilly Northeast. My childhood home sat on top of a steep, winding hill half a mile from the school bus stop. From Thanksgiving to Easter, towering drifts bordered the road and sand trucks and plows lumbered up and down day and night. Snow rarely closed school; anything under 8 inches was considered a dusting. Weather reports on our black-and-white TV were short and to the point. It’s winter here in New York. It snows a lot. Keep calm and shovel on.

There was an occasional bit of weather-related drama. My younger brother was born during a historic January ice storm that made our hill impassable to any vehicle but the village fire truck. My mother went to the hospital on a bright red hook-and-ladder, sirens blaring. We awoke the next morning to a world coated in glass and the sound of our next-door neighbor rattling around in the kitchen. She had slipped and slid her way through the trees and across the lawn to stay with us while my parents were otherwise engaged. 

I got to be good at winter, learning to drive on skiddy streets and to heat soup over a Sterno-fueled chafing dish when the power went out. My skills served me well when we moved to Chicago, just in time for the Blizzard of ’79. Two days and two nights of non-stop snow piled drifts higher than our porch railing. On day three, my children clambered out the front door and began tunneling.

Knoxville was a revelation, an uncharted territory where everything slammed shut at the first hint of a snowflake. We packed away our sub-zero down parkas and watched in amazement as panic set in at a rumor of wintery mix. We marveled at the sight of robins in February and daffodils in early March. By April, it was nearly summer.

Weather puritan that I am, I kept waiting for some grim reckoning, an epic storm that would even the meteorological score and justify the blossoms and birdsong. Once in a while it actually happened: a three-day whiteout in March of ’93, burying the blooming forsythia; an April deep-freeze in 2007.

But mostly, then as now, spring sounds its opening notes before the Valentines are gone from the greeting-card aisle. On the college campus where I work, students trade boots for flip-flops at the first hint of a thaw. Hammocks for impromptu lounging appear on tree branches. I used to think they were rushing the season, but thirtysomething years in East Tennessee have nibbled away at the edges of my dogmatism.

I consider the groundhog’s prediction, wonder what it will mean for the redbud and the flowering quince and those little star-shaped white flowers I have learned to look for every year while most of the country is still wrapped in frost. They may be out next week, poking through dead leaves under trees that are still bare but full of promise. 

I wander around my yard, examine the swelling buds and the white tips of crocus. It comes to me that spring here is like grace, arriving in its own time, abundant, generous, surprising.

And nearly always, unearned.

Stephanie Piper's At This Point examines the mystery, absurdity, and persistent beauty of daily life. She has been a newspaper reporter, editor, and award-winning columnist for more than 30 years. Her Midpoint column appeared monthly in Metro Pulse from 1997 until 2014.

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