Spring Has Sprung… Or Has It?

Fickle April can bring much more than a few rainstorms

The poet said it best: April is the cruelest month. With so much promise and expectation, with a temperate respite from the ravages of winter so close and the colors of eternal spring so dazzling, a single night of freezing temperatures in April can lop the tops off your tulips and numb your flowering azaleas with the effectiveness of an assassin.

Over the past few years, our Valley has often experienced nature’s cruel lesson: The calendar may say it’s spring, and your need to clean house and get your hands into the dark loam is as strong and hard-wired as any urge we humans have. But the truth of the matter is we still need to wear our winter coats and keep our golf clubs in the trunks of our cars for a few weeks more.

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The late spring is confusing. Trees are flowering and bulbs are sprouting from their underground nests, yet the chill in the air reminds us of winter. Reluctantly, we retreat to our cold-weather habits of hot tea, sweatshirts, and a good book in our favorite chair.

We look at our closets and see the flannels and corduroys and want to put them away, retire them from use — move the shorts and T-shirts to the forefront. But not yet. We see robins on the lawn, longer days with more sunshine, and that bluest blue of skies that means it’s time to get out, breathe deeply, perhaps take the bike to the rail trail or Walkway Over the Hudson… but not yet.

This confusion hurts commerce: Are you really ready to buy spring fashions? It hurts relationships: I was going to call you to see if you wanted to take a walk or get some ice cream, but it was too cold.

And it confuses the psyche: As we watch the renewal of all natural things, I’m supposed to feel good about life. But last night we had a freeze warning; another winter storm is predicted for those poor souls in the midwest; and the grass of my lawn, green as a frog’s belly, is still short and stunted, cowering each night with the thought of a blanket of cold dew.

Our ancient relatives hid in the caves, believing that the cold would never cease, the eternal dark would never lift. When spring appeared one morning, golden and unscheduled, they celebrated. They named the month after a variation of the word “abrir,” which means “to open” — an obvious reference to the profundity of flowers (named after Flora, the Roman goddess of vegetation) that appeared almost magically.

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Like the Greeks and Romans before us, we wait anxiously for April — and when it comes, we celebrate. We stand in our garages and wipe our John Deeres clean of last year’s thatch. We go to our local nurseries to buy little trays of purple and yellow hues. And we put our corduroys and sweats on and wait, knowing — unlike our ancestors of yore — that when April finally appears, be it in May or June, it will be glorious and unscheduled.

Illustration by Chris Reed

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