I heard the birds first. The snow was still thick on the ground, the early snowdrops covered; my boots were slippery on the ice, and my hands chapped in my pockets; there were snowmen on the Meadows, and the sky glowed at night. But then, one morning, the birds: chirping, singing, greeting each other. If you looked, you would have seen redwings fluttering in the parks, pecking through the snow, calling. They knew something we did not. I listened, and wondered.
Then the temperature soared overnight, to a balmy eight degrees. The snow vanished. Teenagers came out in t-shirts. There was slush, and mud, and on Bruntsfield Links a woman slipped on a wet corner and came up be-mudded but smiling, and we hovered a few feet away because of coronavirus, our concern the more acute for the distance.
With the mud came the crocuses. They were slow at first, shy spikes of green, and then suddenly radiant in gold, wistful in lilac. On the Meadows, someone has poked sticks in the ground by the path, a miniature tepee to shield a little crowd of resplendent purple. Not all can be saved from trampling, but these will.
And suddenly we can take walks after work, even if the emails keep us a few minutes longer than we planned. We can watch the dusk creep in behind the castle, and see a deep clear sky behind the rain clouds. We can re-enter our flats without fire in our cheeks, and wake up in the morning without putting on an extra heater. We can watch the sunlight on the Georgian stone, and get just a little damp in the rain showers, and feel the breath snatched from our lungs by an Edinburgh gale, without minding too much.
Spring is coming.
Meanwhile, our uncles are being vaccinated; our colleagues, and our partners; our frontline worker flatmates, and our favourite neighbours. The friend who has been shielding, and the elderly relative who is frightened of hospitals, but came back from her appointment beaming.
The vaccine is coming. Even if you have to wait, the fact that it’s getting so close feels – well – like springtime after winter.
Here are some things to look for, as we emerge into this spring.
1. Make Sense of Winter
As the earth thaws, green slips of daffodils poke their way up at the crossroads, and antibody-replete friends exchange furtive, hard-to-let-go hugs, we may realise that we have been a little frozen these last few months. It is often only as we start to stretch and expand, like the unfurling leaves, that we discover how much we have shut down.
We may realise that over winter we hibernated, like the dormice; we blocked out some of the fear, the sadness, and the anger, because to feel it all would have been too much. Our world narrowed, tightened, and numbed. Shutting down got us here, and it got us through, but it also meant that we shut down a little to the beautiful things, and to each other. For a while, life was grey and flat.
Take some time to acknowledge the season that is passing. Honour it for what it was, as much as what it wasn’t. Wave it gently on its way.
2. Tend What Emerges
Sometimes, as we unfreeze, things that we had put on ice begin to reveal themselves. When the snow melts, we find broken bits of plastic toboggan, rusting bottle caps, and discarded masks. Leaks emerge in strange places. Unexpected feelings, some of them very old, rise to the surface. Problems, parked some months ago, blink their way into the light.
It can be frightening and sad; it can feel somewhat relentless. After so many grey months, you don’t want to pick up other people’s broken toboggans. You may not even want to pick up your own. Go gently, if it feels like these spring days are bringing only detritus, old and new; take time to ground yourself, and to be slow. Look closely at the crocuses, and stroke the dog. Give time, attention, and care to what comes up, and know that you don’t need to solve it all at once. In this season, too, we will find our feet.
3. Lean into Spring
As the days become longer and greener, maybe you find that you have more energy. You reach out to people you haven’t spoken to in a while; you pause to look out the window, and you tap your feet when music plays. Somehow, things feel lighter. The coffee tastes better, and that one email matters less. After an interminable present, in which days blurred and the future seemed unimaginable, you can begin to picture summer days lying in the park eating ice-cream, and a wander through a museum, arm-in-arm with a loved one.
Lean in to your unfreezing nervous system. Linger on a walk at dusk, and listen to the blackbirds; relish the firmer ground beneath your feet; touch the soft catkins emerging on pussy willows in front gardens; Google that unknown flower, and discover that it’s an aconite, augur of summer buttercups; follow the blue tit as it hops from tree to tree; watch, if you can, for badger cubs in the countryside. Clean out the dust of months indoors, and eat the leftover frozen apple crumble, and feed your houseplants. As you watch the sky turn pink and mauve from the Links, get ready, quietly, for exuberance.