One of my favorite series of moments each year is when I spot the first signs of spring. No matter how mild or exciting the winter, mid-February always finds me restless and ready for springtime. Often, I will search the grocery stores for an inexpensive miniature rose plant whose beauty offers me a daily multi-sensory reminder that spring is coming.
As I struggled last month with a very real temptation to give in to discouragement, I decided that, even though I didn’t feel like doing anything, I would counteract the temptation by immersing myself in something I loved: nature. I visited a nearby park with the sole purpose of looking for signs of spring, even though technically it was still winter. The signs that I found became metaphors for hope that questioned or replaced my discouragement. (Photos are from midMarch.)
1) Melting snow and ice
After living through ten Canadian winters, where ice didn’t melt till May and snowfall after snowfall just piled up throughout the entire winter months, the sight of snow and ice melting has become a powerful promise that the world around me will not stay frozen forever.
Discouragement can be a bit like a frozen state: so strong that it freezes out other feelings. As I walked and watched the sun melt away the frozen snow, I started to think about the causes of my discouragement. Is there something in me that I need to allow to gradually “thaw” out? Just as the gradual thaw of spring allows the ground to absorb the needed moisture, perhaps I can peacefully let the warmth in my life prepare me to face the feelings, experience, or loss that caused me to feel discouraged in the first place. Melting ice reminds me that my creative spirit will not be frozen forever.
Mud might seem like a strange welcome sign of spring, but I have grown to love the sight of brown ooze. Wet, messy earth might be ugly, but it is incredibly fertile, teeming with potential for new life! Planting in the moist earth of a garden is an incredible sensory experience, digging one’s hands into mud to plant seeds and young seedlings. Mud is also incredibly easy to manipulate: whether digging holes, clearing out weeds, or shaping flower beds.
Yes, mud is ugly and messy, something that most of us avoid, skirting around it when we are out walking because it leaves a trail, a residue to clean up. New life—and the fertile patches where new life can take root—can be messy, too. Spring isn’t just about beautiful flowers, but about growth and new life—and mud is an important part of that. Is there something in my life that I dismiss as “too messy” or too risky—or perhaps too insignificant—to pay attention to?
3) Flowing Water
Bodies of water, whether a gently bubbling brook, a rippling pond, or the ocean tide, have a natural rhythm to them that can soothe a restless spirit. Flowing water can encourage us to simply “be” in the moment, to “go with the flow.”
I am blessed to have always lived near a lake or river, and sometimes only an hour away from the ocean. When I need to reflect, get away, or simply don’t know what I need, I often choose to go walking near a body of water. Allowing the movement of the waters—whether gentle or strong—to simply surround me is almost always helpful—even if it just makes me feel better. Sometimes it is in simply watching the water that I will discover whatever it is in me that is blocking my creative flow. Other times, simply enjoying the tranquility in the rhythmic motion will remind me that the “creative flow” that I seek in my writing cannot be forced but will return in its own time and way because it, like my writing, is gift.
This photo is an early bud of a broad-leafed lilac. The “usual suspects” that herald spring in New England are forsythia, crocuses, and the yellowing branches of willow trees. Yet, I unexpectedly found these brave lilac buds before I saw any of my “usual” markers of spring. And lilacs are one of my favorite flowers: their fragrance is an all-too-brief delight that I unabashedly seek out during the few weeks of their blooming. What an unexpected delight to discover these buds of my favorite flower!
Paying attention to the unexpected is an essential part of my creative process. Yet in the past few years, too often I have allowed this process to often be short-circuited by deadlines, by an over-emphasis on trying to do too much too fast.
Feeling discouraged and creatively blocked are also unexpected. Usually I see them as being negative, but perhaps they, too, have a message to give me about allowing myself the time to slow down, to listen, to be quiet, to anticipate or to “smell the lilacs” present in my life right now.
5) Song of the red-winged blackbird
The red-winged blackbird’s call can be one of the more obnoxious birdcalls, especially when an area is overtaken by them. But in early spring, their call is a welcome sign that red-winged blackbirds have returned from their winter migration! On my walk, these cacophonous birds reminded me again that even frozen winters pass, and to take advantage of whatever writerly season in which I find myself, because it too, will soon be over. Even if the season is a time to deepen rather than blossom!