The season changed.
Spring technically started on March 20, but there have been plenty of cold days since then. There were several nights in the interim between March 20 and now where I had to turn on the electric blanket (like an old person), and whine over the steadfast cruelty of the universe for being so, so cold. Now, finally, I can whine just as loudly that it is so, so hot and muggy. At last. In New Orleans, it is spring.
For people in New Orleans, this is called Festival Season (ala the adage, "New Orleans has four seasons: Mardi Gras Season, Festival Season, Hurricane Season, and Christmas"), and by this I think they mean: strawberries are ubiquitous, bright red, and a-dollar-a-pint; all the houses that are ordinarily swallowed by nameless pine-green vines succumb to buoyant yellow flowers called cat's claw, transforming themselves into overdressed women at the Kentucky Derby; the birds are chatty and everywhere and occasionally so pervasive they fly into windows; farmer's markets have everything -- and I mean everything -- you could hope for a farmer's market to possibly have; and yeah, every week there is a big festival that devours an entire chunk of the city with tourists and locals in sun glasses and fanny packs who say things like, "This trad jazz is dope," and, "If I lived here I'd weigh three hundred pounds, I swear!"
For me, this season is about wearing minimal clothing and drinking every variety of iced tea; it's about taking long naps under shady oak trees and scrubbing the counters in my kitchen with vinegar and lemon to keep the cockroaches from setting up camp. (But you can't avoid the cockroaches, actually. About three years ago I started calling them all "Eliot" -- as in T.S., my mom's favorite poet -- in order to humanize them. Now when I see them in the kitchen I say, "Hey Eliot, how are you today? Written anything anti-Semitic lately?" And the cockroaches say nothing, but look at me with a gaze that says, "You don't scare me." Did you know that cockroaches can run up to 75 cm per second? That means that a cheetah-sized cockroach could run almost as fast as a cheetah. Did you know that cockroaches can live for weeks without their heads? Now imagine a cheetah-sized cockroach without its head. You're welcome.)
For a lot of people around the world, this season is called Easter. Don't freak out, agnostics: Easter is actually way more interesting than you might realize. Before Christians commandeered Easter for their own Jesus-y purposes, the holiday honored the Anglo Saxon goddess of the dawn and the Vernal Equinox named Eostre. She symbolizes (perhaps obviously) rebirth and fertility, and it used to be that people celebrated new life and renewal around this time of year because of her. In ancient mystic traditions, different versions of Easter were celebrated in honor of Ishtar, Inanna, Aphrodite, Diana, Isis, Venus, Astarte, Demeter, Esther, and Freya. The bunny is about fertility, the eggs are about fertility, and you're supposed to wear something new:
An old superstition said to wear something new on Easter. A new garment worn on this day would bring good luck through the coming year. The birds would punish those who wore old attire by dropping decorations on them from the air.
It's a matter of convenience, really, that Jesus' resurrection happened in the spring. That allowed Christians to take over the spring holiday and make it their own.
That's almost too bad, too, because what better is there to celebrate than this ancient rhythm of new life that is all around us this time of year?
In Byrd Baylor's excellent children's book I'm In Charge of Celebrations, the narrator describes what it is like to pay reverence to the shift of tide in the year. She calls this "the new year," which is exactly accurate, because until it is spring, everything is in the process of aging and hanging on and dying. It has always felt a little disrespectful, in my opinion, to celebrate a "new year" according to something as arbitrary as a calendar. For Baylor, the new year comes on a day when "even the air has to be perfect, and the dirt has to feel good and warm on bare feet. (Usually it's a Saturday around the end of April.)" She writes, "I go wandering off, following all of my favorite trails to all of the places I like. I check how everything is doing. I spend the day admiring things."
Yesterday, I sat in the tiny triangular park in my neighborhood with a close friend. It's the park that has the chess pieces always out, and the myriad bird houses, and the fishbowl-shaped Christmas lights strung up. We sat on a bench and one of those margarine-colored butterflies dotted around the park like a puppet on a wire. My friend said, "Spring is so charged." I was quiet; sometimes in moments where a season feels perfect like that, I feel almost catatonic, like to move or speak would shatter it. He said, "It's magical in this way that is both good and bad; it's this crazy cycle where everything is ending and everything is beginning."
We had just run into another friend whose longterm relationship had very recently ended, and it felt perversely appropriate for spring: You lay things to rest. You wake other things up.
Seasons are tricky because they are intrinsically transitional, and that stirs something in us; it makes us feel unrooted. But this time, I have mourned my losses. I have worn black. And as this week -- the Christians call it "the Holy Week" (sorry, agnostics, I can't do a pagan dance around that one) -- crescendos toward Easter, I will make a conscious effort to celebrate. I will take the sun dresses from the attic and let a new version of myself emerge, as is appropriate just once a year, as the season begs for it, under the shade of prismatic bloom.