A single scilla

One odd benefit of having four March nor’easters in a row is the series of springs we’ve experienced in between storms. Even though these past few weeks haven’t been warm, the combined effect of longer days and a more direct angle of sunlight means March snow melts quickly. Even as we wait for our fourth snowstorm, a significant portion of previous snow has already melted, temporarily revealing bare patches of earth.


Despite the two feet of snow we received last week, our day lilies are sprouting, and both snowdrops and scilla are blooming if you know where to look. Spring perennials aren’t deterred by snow: as soon as sunlight hits bare ground, they sprout, bloom, and ultimately outlast even the heaviest snowfalls.

Snowdrops in snow

On bright days, the snow sublimes into thin air, and even on gray days, the snow shrinks from below, the soil absorbing and then slowly emitting the warmth from daytime sunlight. Winter storm Toby can rage and spew all he wants, but the simple fact remains: spring snow never lasts for long, and ultimately both spring and summer prevail.

Almost spring

We’re already three-quarters of the way through February and almost halfway through the semester: almost, but not quite. I’m in my office at Framingham State and can hear a colleague lecturing in her classroom; outside, the grounds crew lumbers by in an all-terrain cart.

(Kinda) half-staff and snagged

It is warm outside, in the 60s; students stroll by in shirtsleeves, and one brave couple boldly spreads a blanket on the snowmelt-muddied quad. It’s a tentative foray into spring; winter has stepped off stage but has yet to leave the building.

I open my second-floor office window for a taste of almost-spring air, a fresh breeze trickling in like an elixir. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I spend my days inside a single building, walking from class to office then back to class again. The world outside might as well be a foreign country–a distant land–another planet entirely. What business do I have here in my brick-building perch with the fresh-aired world outside, with couples on their snowmelt-muddied blankets?

Almost spring

And yet, the gentle waft of spring breeze brings it back: memories of study sessions in the sun, the itch of grass blades on bare flesh, the kiss of cold earth. This morning I walked into our backyard and marveled to see the bare earth again–the same rusty mud as three days ago, before the intervening snow. Although I’ve seen it day after day, year after year, this morning I was stopped short by the inevitable earth, with ground the hue of dead-leaf dirt lightened by yellowed lawn and a tinge of thawed moss.

It’s too early for spring green–that won’t erupt for another month. But the earth today is different than it was last week much less last month. The earth is still sleeping deep in this almost-spring, but it’s felt the warmth of lengthening days strip away its snow coat, and it knows which way its axis lies.

First forsythia

Today I opened the windows. That sounds like an ordinary, unremarkable thing, but anyone who has lived in New England (or anywhere with seemingly interminable winters) knows that Opening Day is a momentous occasion. For the first time in months, I can sit at my desk and listen to birds singing, cars driving down the street, and cyclists, joggers, and pedestrians chatting as they pass. (“We’ll have maple syrup,” one unseen passerby says to another: can it get more quintessentially New England than that?)

Today I opened the windows

Today I wore sandals, cropped pants, and a long-sleeved shirt: long sleeves because of a brisk breeze that still carries a hint of chill, but sleeves I could roll up in the warm sunshine. Today I drove to campus for a midday meeting, and I didn’t care how far away I had to park: simply being outside in the fresh air, sunshine, and birdsong was divine.

Right now as I type these words, I make a mental list of the outdoor sounds I hear: chirping house sparrows, a trilling cardinal, a distant chainsaw, innumerable passing cars. Tomorrow or the next day or the next, these sounds will become background noise: a distraction to tune out while I’m working. But today, these are the most beautiful sounds in the world.

Witch hazel

It’s been a strange winter, with the weather coming in fits and starts.  After last winter’s record-breaking snowfall, everyone seems relieved to navigate bare streets and sidewalks…but a winter almost entirely devoid of snow still seems eerily unnatural.

May Hall mobile

Last night we had a rainstorm with high winds and thunder, today the temperature soared into the 60s, and tomorrow will dip back toward freezing.  Even with a spare set of boots in my office and an extra pair of shoes in my car, I never know how to dress, the climate of “yesterday” never quite matching the weather of “today.”

This afternoon after my office hour, I took a stroll around campus, ostensibly to swap my too-warm boots for the shoes in my car.  On the way, I saw witch hazel blooming in its usual spot, but more than a week earlier than it has in the past.  In snowier seasons, the first sight of anything blooming comes as a revelation; this year, it only seems odd.  Last year was too snowy and this year too warm:  like Goldilocks, I feel disoriented and out-of-sorts on an ambling search for Just Right.

Cloudy with a chance of magnolias

Between today’s classes at Framingham State, I pulled myself from my paper-piles to take a quick walk around the block, wandering into a residential neighborhood then circling back. Even during a short walk, it’s hard not to notice spring manifesting in the form of greening grass, blooming flowers, and lounging college students.

First dandelions and ground-ivy

It’s been chillier than usual this April: usually by now, I would have been besieged by students begging to have class outside, and I would have been hard pressed to say no. But so far this year, it’s been too chilly for that, and I’ve worn sandals chiefly out of principle, hating to revert back to socks, winter-weight tights, and shoes. But regardless of the temperatures, the flowers know that lengthening days mean spring, so they bloom despite the chill. After a season of snow, the sight of the earth erupting in dandelions seems nothing short of miraculous.

Guess who's back?

There are many ways the winter-weary measure the arrival of spring. Some people happily welcome the season’s first robin; others eagerly await baseball’s opening day. For the past month, I’ve been monitoring our shrinking backyard snow piles, so the momentous milestone in the photo above isn’t the robin but the bare grass.

Shoes, not boots

The main method I use to chart the arrival of spring, however, is much more down to earth: specifically, what sort of footwear I use to step on said earth. March 25 was the first day this year I dared to wear shoes rather than boots, an occasion so momentous I couldn’t resist snapping a picture of my almost-bare ankles. Only someone who has spent the past three months clomping around in boots can understand the sheer joy that comes from slipping into a pair of flats: shoes only a step or two removed from slippers. In flats, I feel lightweight and unencumbered: someone who twirls on twinkle-toes rather than trudging in clod stompers. Forget about any other signs of spring: your feet will tell you when winter is truly over.

Rite of spring

Perhaps, then, you can understand why I spent much of March poring over Zappos, trying to choose a new pair of sandals for the season. Technically, I don’t need a new pair of sandals: last year’s Keen “Rose” sandals still have plenty of life in them, as do the Crocs “Kadee” flats I wear as indoor slippers. But when you’re tired of zipping up dress boots and pulling on Wellies, the thought of a new pair of sandals is enough to keep you trudging forward through the snow piles. It almost doesn’t matter which pair you choose as long as you can close your eyes and imagine yourself sunning your toes in them, someday.

Something green and growing

Temperatures stayed above freezing for much of last week, so the snow pack is gradually shrinking, with patches of bare ground appearing on the edges. We saw these brave perennials starting to sprout from a sheltered spot alongside a building in Waltham yesterday…but in our yard here in Newton, the snow is still knee-deep, with an additional inch or two of fresh snow (enough for Boston to break its record for the snowiest season on record) falling last night.

Artificial flowers in snow bank

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Since it will be weeks, at least, until most of us see tulips or daffodils blooming in our still-buried gardens, some folks are taking matters in their own hands, sticking cut or even artificial flowers in the snow banks in front of their houses: a welcome spot of color. When you can’t enjoy the real thing, a reasonable facsimile will have to do.

Cut daffodils in snow bank