By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina
April is the cruelest month, breeding
lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
memory and desire, stirring
dull roots with spring rain.
—T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land
I’ll admit it: I used to hate Spring.
Why “admit”? Because from what I can tell, most people are thrilled by lengthening days, soft fragrant breezes, and the sight of new flowers pushing up through the fresh grass.
In New York, Springtime is especially noteworthy. Everyone takes to the parks. Lovers canoodle. Pets frolic. And we walk around with goofy smiles and say unexpected things to each other, like “Please,” and “Thank you” and “After you!”
So what’s not to love?
Here’s my problem: Spring can be beautiful, yes. But she’s a tease, and a cold, dangerous one. And she arrives right when you’re at your most vulnerable and depleted, yearning for sunshine, warmth, and hope. Sometimes she delivers. And sometimes she smacks you with grey clouds and cold wet weather.
If you’re in a kayak, Spring is downright dangerous. It’s easy enough to make the mistake of counting on Spring’s gentle smile and promises of balmy weather—then end up trapped on icy waters, with the temperature plummeting below freezing. (That actually happened to us one year.)
Both Autumn and Spring are interstitial seasons, straddling the equinox and marking the transition between cold and warmth, light and darkness. So they’re inherently periods of change.
But you coast into Autumn on a wave of Summer’s energy, with memories of sunshine and light. Seasonal food slowly changes from Summer’s rich fare (corn on the cob, watermelon) to Autumn’s heartier offerings (potatoes, pumpkins, roasts and stews). And there are the holidays to look forward to.
And, if you’re a NYC-area paddler, Autumn is one of the loveliest times to be out in a kayak. True, the days are short, and the winds can already be chilly—but the retained warmth of Summer lingers in the water. You can watch the pageantry of the changing leaves, and slowly get used to the increasingly barren landscape.
By the time Autumn officially ends, it’s nearly Christmas, and the days are beginning to lengthen again. (Vlad’s mother used to say that the reason early Christians picked the 25th of December—rather than the solstice itself—to celebrate was that they could already tell that the days were getting longer, and so could be assured that there was going to be another year—a good thing if you’re going to celebrate Christ’s entry into the world!)
And Winter may be stark, but she has her own special beauty. There’s ice skating and snow, and ice on the rivers. And who hasn’t admired the elegant arms of bare trees against a gray sky?
I’m not the only one who anthropomorphizes the seasons. A little while ago, I bought four coffee mugs decorated with “The Seasons” by Alfons Mucha, the epitome of Art Nouveau. Each season is represented by a woman.
Spring is the most perfectly beautiful, graceful and pale, but also icy and distant. She’s the feminine ideal in 21st-century America: slim, unlined, radiant.
Summer is bodacious. She’s clearly had a child or two. Her curves have filled out, and her colors are rich and shimmering. Her attitude is one of bounty.
Autumn is regal, presiding over a harvest. Solid and stable, she bespeaks maturity and wisdom.
And Winter is an elegant wraith, slender to the point of boniness, her face nearly hidden by a veil.
Of all the images, I think I love Summer’s lush curves and bright colors the most. And even though I wouldn’t say Summer is my favorite season (as opposed to being my favorite image) it’s certainly a comfortable season, with early dawns and lingering evening light, and reliable warmth. In Summer you can paddle in just shorts and a T-shirt. It’s Summertime, and the livin’ is easy…
Okay, so I said I “used” to hate Spring.
What changed? A few weeks ago I started a running program. I’d been a runner decades ago, grimly pounding out my 45 minutes three or four times a week, blaring punk rock into my ears to numb the pain.
Without going into too much detail, what distinguishes this particular program is that it’s about enjoying the process—kind of like kayaking. So you bring no music, focus on form, don’t push too hard, and focus on the joy in the moment.
And, running now in Spring, I find myself noticing…
… the incessant chirping of birds as they go into their courtship mode. (Pigeons are particularly entertaining; the male puffs up his glistening purple neck, looking for all the world like an overfed businessman bulging out of his too-tight collar, and struts after an indifferent-seeming female.)
… the rainbow sprays of flowers in the trees, and covering the ground
… the fuzzy growth of new green leaves
… the charm of a puppy on a leash, dancing excitedly around its fashionably-dressed owner.
And as I started up one of the gentler hills in Central Park this morning, I felt the cold rush of air on my cheeks, still hot and puffy from sleep.
And I thought to myself, “I love this. I love being out here in the cool morning air. I love how fresh everything smells. I love… Spring!”