Phew! It’s finally over.
At sunset on the vernal equinox, I stood on my bluff overlooking the Sangamon, feeling the current carry my thoughts off toward the setting sun.
At 4:58 pm on March 20, our planet’s north-south axis was aligned precisely 90 degrees relative to the sun. All over the planet, night equals day and now. For the next six months, the days are longer than the nights. Adieu winter, hello spring!
The arrival of spring is a time of new life, renewal. And a time for my winter amnesia to set in. Because if it didn’t, I’d have packed up and headed south from Central Illinois a long time ago. Now I can forget about all the ice and snows of the past 3 or 4 months or so and look forward to a bright, colorful future of new life and renewal.
Like I said, Phew! It’s over.
I grew up in northern Florida and for reasons now irrelevant, we wound up migrating in the opposite direction of the fall waterfowl and monarch butterflies. Central Illinois winters, while occasionally quite stunningly beautiful, are for me a particular form of torture. The bleakness of midwinter is somehow bleaker here.
This is not really a question of geography either, because in fairness, I never particularly cared for northern Florida winters either. When the temperature occasionally dropped into the thirties, it was just too darn cold for me, thought I. Ha! It is to laugh! Oh, what a foolish child I was, knowing nothing of true cold, (until I moved to Illinois at 28).
Yet just like I don’t want to go back to February, I can’t go back to my childhood either. The Florida of my youth no longer exists. Yes, my childhood home still exists; my sister lives there with her husband and our mom. However, “the woods” (their official name, to us) across the road have long since been obliterated; turned into a warehouse district full of semis hustling and bustling in and out. And even if “the woods” were still there, you still simply can’t go back.
I was on the road last week and my travels took me to Carbondale, where I worked as an Assistant Professor of political science during our first 6 years in Illinois before coming to the U of I. We had a nice Victorian style home just off the downtown ‘strip’ in Murphysboro, the next town over. 20 years later, it’s still there, so is the Hardware and Pets store, the Liberty Theater, RJ’s Video where we rented our movies, and the Farm Fresh store where our 5 year old daughter Alex won the first prize television in a drawing. She cried about it though because she actually wanted to win the third prize “Princess Di” Beanie Baby (she later got one from Santa, so all was good). They are all still open for business. As a matter of fact, Murphysboro is still pretty much the same as it was.
But our old baby blue and white Victorian home was apparently abandoned several years back, standing in all its glory on 14th Street; junk in the yard and falling apart. We could probably go back and pick it up for a song, but who would want to? We’ve moved onward.
Intriguingly, the house we first moved to in Philo is now demolished; a grassy lot remains. As is the Creative Dramatics Workshop in Sidney where our whole family participated in community theater, as is the grade school in Sidney where Alex went to Kindergarten and her elementary school in Philo. All obliterated. And, as I’ve written about in the Citizen here before, our home here just outside of Mahomet burned to the ground in the winter of 2007. Out past is quite literally being obliterated behind us. We can’t look back, but why would we want to?
I look up through the still bare trees to the crystal blue sky and see a metaphor: an airliner crosses the sky tens of thousands of feet above. As it moves ahead, it creates a vapor trail, that once created, appears still. Then, within less than a minute, it’s gone. Like Harold and his Purple Crayon, the past is created in real time – in the now. But then, moments later, you turn the page and it’s gone, only a memory.
So, Phew, it’s finally over. Good riddance.
Growing up, I never used to get very emotional about the weather, but now, Spring! A time for new life and a time for renewal, rebirth. It all simply explodes in green and every other color, in warm temperatures and in time spent on the Sangamon.
Yes, Central Illinois springs are truly joyous things.
I gaze now at the bottomland across the river, all still barren and brown. But in a few weeks, that floor will slowly change to green and then explode in bright purple-blue, the color of the bluebells that have been waiting their turn to shine. About that time, our tulips and hyacinths will be popping, the redbuds will explode their flowers right along their branches, then the Japanese magnolias, flowering fruit trees and all the rest. All the while, the trees grow greener with that bright shade of lime-yellow green of newly emergent leaves as the mercury rises.
I like north Florida, and think about it often during winter, but with spring’s arrival here at our home just north of Mahomet, the quiets are quieter, the blues of the sky are deeper, the clouds seem whiter, the air fresher and crisper and vibrant. With clear views of the western horizon all around, the sunsets more stunning.
Spring equals promise and renewal, offering a time to look forward, not back. Life is truly anew.
My travels also recently took me to Springfield and on my way home, after daylight savings time had set in, I stopped off at one of my favorite places, Lincoln Trail Homestead State Park, about 10 miles west of Decatur. Here in 1831, like me now on a chilly day in March, a 21 year old Abe Lincoln stood on the bluff overlooking the Sangamon, feeling the current carry his thoughts off toward the setting sun.
Abe looked forward, not back. Certainly not back at one of the worst winters Central Illinois was ever to have experienced: The Winter of the Big Snow. He saw in the river opportunity: an opportunity to move on. He and his cousins, with a vague promise of a job carrying dry goods and livestock on a flatboat to New Orleans, they loaded into a large canoe and left the homestead behind, setting out on the Sangamon and never looking back. A new life. The renewal offered by spring.
The arrival of spring brings a time of new life, renewal. For my family this year, quite literally. Carol and my first grandson Everest arrived on February 1st. Like us, Everest looks ahead not back. Creating his future every day, like Harold with his Purple Crayon. We can see it in Everest’s eyes, eyes that absorb everything in this wonderful world. Eyes that are absorbing – for the first time – the blues of the sky, the whites of clouds and that – with the arrival of spring – will absorb the purple-blues of the bluebells and the greens of the trees.
Appeared as Rivers and Roads, Mahomet Citizen, by Scott Hays, March 21, 2019