Here Come the Flowers

It’s hard to believe that the freezing temperatures and snowfalls of February really were winter’s last blast, and yet, here we are. On the first day that the sun was out and the temperatures had crept back up into the twenties, birds could be heard twittering like spring had arrived before the snow had even thawed. And they haven’t stopped their chattering since—apparently they knew something we didn’t.

Over the past two weeks, the world has shifted into an early springtime. Snowdrops and witch hazel survived the freeze and were joined by winter aconite. Front yards and fields are dotted purple, white, and yellow with spring crocus. Delicate little scilla and spring snowflakes have made an appearance at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Daffodils and hellebores, the first of the more sizable flowers, have begun to open. Golden yellow Cornelian cherry dogwoods are blooming all along Magnolia Street in Tower Grove Park, and the very first cherry blossoms and magnolia flowers are just beginning to push their way out of the buds that have kept them warm all winter.

So move slowly when you go outside, and don’t forget to look down at your toes and up into the treetops: the first flowers are here, and there is no shortage of them. There will still be cold days, but now the hill has been crested: we are heading for the heart of springtime.

Winter Walking

This week is about to get sit-on-your-hands-at-every-stoplight cold. These are the days that drive us all inside. When you’ve got someplace to be, you shuffle straight from the house to the car and curse the cold as the engine shudders to life.50612236_2001423719976125_1038608364453494784_n

The winters here are rarely so brutal that we actually need to take shelter. But if you spend most of your days indoors, you only have to think about dressing warmly enough to make it to and from the vehicle. When you’re thinking that way, the extra layers are nothing but uncomfortable and unnecessary. Nobody wants to wear four layers to a party and slowly strip in the hosts’ doorway. Instead, we shiver for a brief, terrible minute as we walk to and from the car.

The trick to enjoying the outdoors during winter is to forget for a moment the convenience of the thermostat and remember an older but equally valuable invention: warm clothing. When you’ve got that cooped-up-cabin-fever coming on, don’t let the cold keep you from a walk in the park or a ride on a bicycle. All you’ve got to do is stop thinking, “Will this keep me warm enough?” and start thinking, “how many layers can I fit under my biggest coat?” Once you’ve transformed into a waddling bundle, step outside.

There’s a different sort of pleasure in a freezing cold walk. It isn’t leisurely; it’s invigorating. Walk long enough and you’ll start to warm up. Notice how many birds are still living out in the cold, hopping from tree to tree. Notice the construction crew in their coveralls who work in this weather all day long. There is still life out here. Soon you might be peeling off layers, even sweating; all the while your cheeks are ice cold. On days like these, you’ll have the parks, the botanical garden, or the zoo almost all to yourself. Cars will pass you by, their drivers probably wondering aloud who the hell would be out in this weather. Strive to be the one who will be every time.

When your winter walk comes to an end and you step into the house you were shivering in an hour ago, a house which now feels far too hot, you’ll feel you have conquered the cold. On the paper towel dispensers at Shaw Nature Reserve, someone has pasted a Kierkegaard quote:

“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Everyday, I walk myself into a state of well- being & walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. But by sitting still, & the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill. Thus if one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right.”