Spring snuck up on me. It was beautiful for a week in early February, and then I looked around and the whole world was in bloom. At first, I didn’t trust it. Twenty years on the East Coast taught me not to have confidence in an early spring. There, the weather would warm for a few beautiful days, maybe a week, in March, and my body, which had become acclimatized to the inhuman cold of Northeast winters, would begin to relax. My shoulders would widen and lower, my chest would expand. Breathing would become easier; walking less tentative.
And just when I felt safe, winter would blast back—and then it seemed worse, much worse, than it had before that sweet respite of the false spring.
But in this time and in this place, it was not a false spring. There was no killing frost to confuse the daffodils, no final blanket of snow. A month on, it’s still beautiful on Whidbey Island. Last week I planted lettuce. Without thinking, I told a friend in New York that, and she almost wept.
Spring means lighter clothes, lighter colors, more light altogether; it means being outside more; it means longer walks; it means planting—and because my birthday is in the spring, for me it is also a time of personal rebirth.
It’s fortuitous that spring started earlier this year, because when my birthday comes next month, I will be heading into a new decade, the big seven-oh—an age that I have never thought of in any regard except as the beginning of “the final years.” Actually, I’d thought that about fifty and sixty as well, but these milestones I managed to go through with no sense of true change. This time, I know there should be changes, there must be changes—there are changes. Any point in life can be our final year, final moment, but if death hasn’t come by the time you’re seventy, at least by then you know it’s fairly close. And if not death, then serious aging—the deterioration of body and mind—and these are certainties that, if you’re prudent, you acknowledge and anticipate.
A few weeks ago a friend suggested I dye my white hair, and I had to laugh. What would be the point of it? Do I want to fool people? To kid myself?
And perhaps that is the change I’m undergoing. I have no energy left for making a show. If something isn’t either fun or nourishing, if it doesn’t contribute to my well-being or to someone else’s, why bother with it? At this point, dying my hair would be like setting up a false spring in my own life.
Of course, the winter of our years has its own compensations, and the meaning of any milestone is what we ourselves give to it. Someone has just reminded me of what George Bernard Shaw, then ninety, said to a friend at his seventieth birthday celebration—“Oh, to be seventy again!”