January and February are always my least favorite months, but I can’t remember a winter when I longed for spring as desperately as this one. It’s the pandemic, of course, which has sucked the world dry of what little joy remains, damp and grey and interminable.
Locked down and stultifying in the sameness of life, I did what I could to appreciate what pleasures were to be had. The scent of an old winter-flowering arrowwood tree over a neighbor’s fence, a powerful mix of cinnamon and daffodil. (The next day I bought two specimens to plant in my own garden.) The deeply colored yellow berries on our pyracantha shrub, picked clean in one afternoon by a migrating family of redwings. When we had our few days of annual grudging snow, we were out at the crack of dawn scraping the hill down to the mud with our sledges.
But what I have really been pining for are the spring bulbs. The wait for the first green spears to appear is agonizing, but then it seems like another eternity before they finally flower. At least you can say this for the daffodils, tulips and hyacinths, which are stately and slow. The snowdrops and crocuses seem to pop up and bloom out of nowhere, unless you really have your eye in. It’s all go now, with new beautiful flowers appearing every day, unstoppable. During a recent tromp in the muddy woods, the loam was pierced with a thousand nascent bluebells. The ornamental cherry and apricot tree in our back garden are about to unfurl pink blossoms; the furry magnolia flowers will follow soon after.
And high above, the great tits sing “Peter Peter Peter” with a tenor that you only ever hear when the worst is over.
Joshua’s home-schooling is much better organized this time around, but it’s still difficult to juggle everything. I do miss the intensity of the first lockdown, when we were largely on our own and I had to come up with what to teach him. I was reminded of those days when we took a little nature walk last week as a break from school and work. I taught him all the bird calls we could hear, and the names of a few trees. When we got home, he sketched the birds he’d heard, using Collins as a guide. These are things that would probably not happen were it not for lockdown.
So, the end is near, as the UK vaccination programme rolls on successfully. Unless something terrible happens with new variants of the virus, schools will re-open in two weeks, restrictions will gradually ease thereafter, and normal life is set to resume in June. It has been so many months that I wonder how long we will still feel the rub of the cage bars once we are freed. What scars will linger? How will it affect us long-term? For the moment, we can only hope that soon this impossibly long year will fade into memory, that brighter days truly are ahead.