A week before the spring equinox we suddenly had a warm day here in the city – the temperature shot up to fifty degrees, the sun was shining, and when the East Side trains stopped running for some unknown reason, I decided to walk crosstown through Central Park on my way to school.
My typical adopted New York reaction to these kinds of things – train delays, unannounced construction, slow tourists crowding the sidewalk, the universe conspiring against me – is to get stressed out about being late, or even if I don’t have to be anywhere at a specific time, to get pissed off that I’m not moving as fast as I could be. But that day it made sense to just shrug my shoulders and set off on foot. I was grateful for the sun on my face, the ground beneath my feet, the fact that I am lucky enough at all to have feet to carry me and the power to walk, grateful that spring was on its way, and grateful that my schedule wasn’t so tight that I couldn’t take thirty minutes out of my day to enjoy it. In those luminous stolen moments before I resumed my routine, I found myself thinking that every time and place has its own cycles, its own new beginnings, its own spiritual resonance ...
I wasn’t alone. Tracing my warm-weather route from East 86th street through the park, I saw joggers, French-speaking tourists, old men resting on benches, nannies pushing strollers, and dogs walking their owners. The dogs were so excited – gallivanting through the grass with ears flapping, stopping to greet and smell each other on the path, canines of every shape and size and color frolicking in the crisp noon air. I wondered what the experience of that afternoon must have been for them – Fresh air! Sunshine! All these smells! I thought of all the babies in strollers and toddlers braving down the path one shaky step at a time. Was it the first spring for any of them? Were they too young to remember last year? What did that feel like – to have been born in winter or have that as your only memory, the cold and the dark, and then to suddenly come outside and feel the warmth on your skin, to see the grass ripening to a new shade of green and the fuzzy buds coating the once bare trees, to experience the world suddenly becoming so much different than you knew it before.
Spring fever – it sounds like a fun disease. This season isn’t merely a weather phenomenon; it’s an arousal, a return to life and warmth, an opportunity to see the world again, anew, and to be in awe of its living poetry.
I was witnessing nature reminding us of her presence after a long slumber. It was quiet during those dormant months; maybe we thought nothing was happening – but we were fooled! She was preparing all along, under ground in the deep layers of the earth, waiting to come to the surface. And I feel during this long winter I too have been preparing, gestating in the deep levels of myself, and now I can be reborn.
Because I am a teacher both by profession and in character, I was already composing a speech in my mind to give to my kids when the equinox rolled around. My youngest students are five years old, and my oldest are an already jaded twelve or thirteen. I want to tell them about this walk in the park, about the babies and the dogs and the world waking up.
I want to say to them: “It might seem very ordinary to you, but imagine you were one of those puppies or babies and this was your first spring. When you walk outside, I want you to pretend that you are experiencing it for the first time too, and see how many new things you can notice – the flowers starting to push up from the ground, the smell of the grass and the mulch and the dirt, the fresh air blowing in your face and the sun on your skin. Maybe you can hear the birds singing in the morning and the ice-cream truck down the street in the afternoon and notice that the days are getting longer and longer.”
The rural educator in me thinks it’s important for my city kids to pay attention to their environment and rejoice in every green space the urban landscape offers them. My inner mythologist wants to say to them: “Just like nature has seasons where the Earth grows and changes, you can think of your life having seasons too – you go through different stages as your body and your mind grow and change. Right now you all are in the springtime of your life – everything is fresh and new, and you haven’t been in the world very long. This is the time when you are young and bright and full of potential to do amazing things.”
At moments like that, I have a change of vision too – I see not just children in my class, but a grove of young trees, barely more than saplings, wakened to life and trying to thrive in the urban wilderness. In this season of renewal I want to give the world to them – I want to show them the other side of what they are accustomed to seeing, show them a magical place where everyday events become opportunities for awe. I want to show them the legends of our past and the stories buried in the earth itself, so that a springtime walk across the park becomes an ancient celebration of entering the forest where the Green Man waits and Gaia sings her song. I want to show them that when you are inspired to do new things – even as simple as starting a class, launching a website, walking through a different neighborhood or uncovering hidden surprises in your daily life – it feels like embarking on a new journey in the morning light, in the fresh clear hours of dawn when the path stretches in front of you and the possibilities seem neverending.