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A field full of snowmen.

A field full of snowmen.

I used to find this picture of a field full of snowmen amusing, oh, say, about two months ago, when I thought there would be an end–some day!–to winter.

Last week I wanted to knock all of their freaking heads off.

This has been the longest winter I can remember, here in New England and also in most of, I was going to say, the northern US, but the South has been hit also, and it’s been pitiful to see the terrible traffic pile-ups in Southern cities such as Atlanta caused by one inch of snow. Welcome to our winter, is all I can say. Only multiply that one inch of snow many-fold to get the 62 inches that have made our lives a misery of shoveling and stomping and slipping and sliding and sniffling and there you have the winter of 2013-2014.

Daffodils in Grantchester, Cambridgeshire, on January 31st.

Daffodils in Grantchester,near Cambridge, on January 31st.

Spring comes earlier in England than in New England:  the temperate climate makes the winters less cold, the summers less hot.  Every year, round about the end of January, I’d get a blue airmail letter from my grandmother who lived in Derbyshire saying, “Roll on, Spring!” and by February she’d be writing that the primroses and daffodils were “a picture” long before they would raise their heads here. But here in Boston, something’s finally in the air. The snowfall that was predicted last week didn’t materialize.  Instead of snow, or even sleet, there was rain–beautiful, wondrous, live-affirming rain–beating down on the roofs and gardens and streets, and causing such a racket I couldn’t sleep. But still, how could I mind?  It was rain, not snow! In a wonderful essay, Joan Wickersham, writing in the Boston Globe, has this to say about spring:

ONE OF the most quietly beautiful passages I’ve ever read in a novel comes toward the end of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “The Long Winter,’’ a fictionalized account of a particularly brutal winter her family endured on the Dakota prairies in the 1880s. After months of relentless blizzards, Laura is awakened in the middle of the night by the wind — but there is something different about it: “there were no voices, no howls or shrieks in it. And with it there was another sound, a tiny, uncertain, liquid sound that she could not understand.” She listens, and then she realizes: the sound is water, dripping from the eaves; and the wind is the Chinook, the warm spring wind that blows from the west.

I, too, am looking for signs of spring.  And they are coming. First, there was the long-forgotten sound of birdsong, and then, A brave bunch of crocuses miraculously, you’d see a burst of crocuses where they hadn’t been the previous day. And you’d know that the phrase that you’d dared not utter for the last five months: spring is coming!–might actually be true. Spring is indeed in the air here in Boston, though no flowers except the early-blooming crocuses and snowdrops have got the message. The grass still has its winter pallor, and the trees are only bare bones. But as they say in the north of England, things are starting to stir, showing that “it’s wick!”  It’s alive!

The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

One of my favorite books from my childhood is The Secret Garden. It’s about life coming back to an abandoned English garden, and to the three children who tend it–Dickon, a boy of the Yorkshire moors, Mary, the contrary, unpleasant orphan girl who is brought from India to England to live as a ward of her uncle, and Colin, her sickly cousin, who is waiting to die. Mary finds the key to a door in a walled garden that has been locked since Colin’s mother died in childbirth.  She and Dickon bring the garden back to life, and Mary and Colin discover what it means to be alive.

Painting by Tasha Tudor in The Secret Garden

Painting of Dickon and Mary in the secret garden by Tasha Tudor.

As Dickon says when Mary asks him what time he awoke,

 “Eh! I was up long before [the sun].  How could I have stayed abed!  Th’ world’s all fair begun again this mornin’, it has.  An’ it’s workin’ an’ hummin’ an’ scratchin’ an’ pipin’ an’ nest-buildin’ an’ breathin’ out scents, till you’ve got to be out on it ‘stead o’ lyin’ on your back.  When th’ sun did jump up, th’ moor went mad for joy, an’ I was in the midst of th’ heather, an’ I run  like mad myself, shoutin’ an’ singin’.  An’ I come straight here.  I couldn’t have stayed away.  Why, th’ garden was lyin’ here waitin’!

Spring is finally here!  It’s wick!