There is a is short distance between stubborn and foolish, and this morning both seem a lot closer than my office.
It is early March, and I am walking to work. A few months ago I would have prepared for this quarter-mile trek by layering my winter gear–fleece, scarf, coat, hat, gloves–but today I am convinced, thermometer-be-ignored, that spring has come. I zip up my fleece and head out the door.
Halfway down the hill my ears start to sting, and by the bottom they are mostly numb. Now I notice that the grass is white and furry, and the sidewalk shimmers with ice crystals. I shift my travel mug into the other hand as my fingers vie for their turn in my pocket.
Why didn’t I grab those gloves? They were right there; in the basket by the door.
As I trudge along, I get my answer. One after another, fellow foolish Pittsburgers pass me on the sidewalk. Very few pulled their gloves out of the basket this morning. “Stubborn under-dressed Pittsburghers,” I mutter in my head, “always a sure sign of spring.” And because I need distraction, I start a list as I shiver along the way.
* * * * *
Eight-and-One-Half Signs that Spring Might Come. Someday. Maybe.
One: Stubborn under-dressed Pittsburghers. Yesterday a friend told me that on the first fifty-degree day she sends all her winter coats to the cleaners, and replaces long-sleeved shirts with t-shirts in her dresser. Nevermind that our last frost date is May 1st. Nevermind that we will certainly get more snow before winter lets us go. Nevermind all this–we have waited long enough. Pull out the swimsuits!
Two: Mud. The coming of spring is the coming of mud, and by mud I don’t mean thin, sissy mud that splashes up from puddles and leaves a thin film on your car. I mean mud with heft, mud like a sumo wrestler who grabs at your heels. With. Every. Step. Every year I forget this mud, and every year I am reminded when the first child stomps into the kitchen, thick clumps in her wake. Which brings me to…
Three: Mud boots. In my house, there is a grand exchange sometime in mid-March of snow boots for mud boots, the fruit of my thrift store labor. You see, some people call mud boots ‘rain boots’ and once or twice they pull them out so their little children can splash in puddles. Adorable. Then the little children outgrow their cute boots, and their parents stuff them into a box for the thrift store.
And at this point they come to my house to be destroyed. Our little boot-butchers go through two pair of mud boots every spring, and two pair every fall. By the time we throw out each sacrifice they are cracked, duct-taped, ripped and leaking. Additionally, they stink, because it’s oh-so-easy to slip on mud boots without socks, no matter how many times your parents scold, “Go upstairs and get some… blah, blah, blah.”
Four: Full playgrounds and lines for ice cream. My children may tune out at “socks”, but “ice cream” comes through loud and clear. So, on the first sunny afternoon, we join the hordes at the playground, and then ‘cool off’ with a sweet frozen treat. We’re not sweating–yet–but ice cream reminds us that someday we will.
Five: Potholes that turn driving into a survival sport. Or, when filled with water, could drown a small french poodle. (Note: I find this last image completely offensive. But when my husband suggested it, my seven-year old daughter rolled on the carpet with laughter and begged me to include it. This will be my final family consultation for this piece.)
Six: Swearing about that darn groundhog, who saw his darn shadow, increases in volume and pitch as March unwinds. Now, keep in mind that seeing his shadow (i.e. six more weeks of winter) is Punxsutawney Phil’s least optimistic forecast. Not seeing his shadow (a rare event, happening only 17 times since 1887) is his furry rodent way of predicting an early spring. Still, either way, Groundhog Day is February 2nd. This means that we should be reading books on the lawn by March 17th, at the very latest. Hey Phil–where’s my warm green grass?
Six and one-half: Swearing about the first day of spring. Okay, we get that the groundhog thing is a bit silly, and maybe March 17 is a bit optimistic. But my calendar, which was created by smart people, says that the first day of spring is March 20th. And so, when we get a blizzard on the day we were promised daffodils, we have been betrayed by both human and beast–who can deny our right to complain? (See: “It’s Going to Snow on Friday Because Spring is a Miserable Lie” from Wednesday’s New York magazine)
Seven: The thrill of the first crocuses. We may not have daffodils yet, but this weekend my entire family (and a few neighbors) gathered reverently around this sacred bunch.
Take that, brown and white. Purple and green have returned!
And Eight: Open windows. In the fall, 50 degrees means bonfires and hoodies; in the spring, we roll down car windows and play our music for the world. Just the other day it was 60 degrees, so we aired out our house, missing the irony that our thermostat is set for 68. No matter–spring is coming, open the windows and let it in while you can.
Stir-crazy is a type of crazy, and I’m not sure I can be trusted. Soon I’ll put our glove basket away and replace it with swimming gear. Soon I’ll put away the soup pots and get out the picnic blanket. Soon I’ll trade mud boots for flip flops, or even better, bare feet. I’ve lived in Western Pennsylvania long enough to know that I should probably wait a few months for these rites of seasonal transition, but we’ll see.
It’s snowing today. Maybe I’ll wait until April.
Photos by Ryan Marsh and Dan Buczynski