Spring Is But Slightly Sprung

March 30, 2006 psipsina

Today marks the 9th anniversary of the night that my then-boyfriend and I, exhausted, pulled the moving van into the parking space in front of his, soon to be our, apartment.  I remember it clearly, because the next day it began to snow, and by the time we woke up on Tuesday, April 1, 1997, Boston was buried in several feet of snow.

Locals called it, and still call it, the April Fool’s Day storm.

I had spent much of the prior 10 years of my life in places like Maryland and St. Louis, where by April 1 Spring has staged a color riot that would make Gaugin drool.  I looked out the window on April 1, 1997, and thought, “I have just made the biggest mistake of my life.”  And for quite some time, I thought it was true.  I came here without a job to pursue a relationship that can be most charitably described as a mistake.  I had virtually no savings, and I used them in up in the month or so that it took me to find a crappy job.  And I’d moved to place where it snows in April.

Much has changed since then.  I have an excellent job now and am eagerly anticipating my marriage to the Red-Haired Boy, for whom I am daily grateful.  All kinds of things can happen in a decade.

What hasn’t changed is Spring.  Spring in New England is defined as the 45 minutes in June when the temperatures hit 70 degrees on their way from 40 to 90.  I love many things about Boston, including our delightful New England summers, but Spring here is, not to put too fine a point on it, shitty.  Many people, when they make it big, have a summer home.  Me, I’ll have a spring home, somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon line, where I will not risk catching pneumonia by going to the Memorial Day parade without a jacket.  And it will be somewhere where they have azaleas instead of those nauseating lavender rhododendrons that grow like weeds around here.

Which brings me to an e-mail I wrote to my friend E. on a cool sunny March day two years ago:

It’s quite nice out, that’s fer sure.  But after nine years of living in places where there is a Real Spring (Annapolis, Santa Fe, DC, St. Louis), it’s still jarring when I hear newscasters say, “It’s 40 degrees.  It feels like spring out there,” without a trace of irony.  Yes, I’ve been here for nigh-on seven years (seven years exactly on March 30), and while I am mostly used to the weather, I don’t believe we have spring.  Unless you count that 36-hour period that occurs some time in June between winter and summer … I don’t consider that outdoor temperatures lower than what I keep my thermostat at count as spring.

When I moved here, I learned to hate rhododendrowns (I like the typo, I think I’ll leave it).  In Maryland, DC, and St. Louis, you do see a few rhodos early in the spring, but they don’t last long, and they are replaced quickly with a riot of color in the form of their more passionate cousins, the azaleas.  Blood red azaleas, snowy white azaleas, lipstick fuschia azaleas.  Azaleas are not shy; they do not dress conservatively.  L. and I used to make trips to the National Arboretum each spring to drink in the sight of masses and masses of azaleas.  It was pretty nearly a religious experience for me.  So … I moved to Boston one March, and waited for spring.  Eventually the rhododendrons came out, and I licked my lips in anticipation of the azaleas.  And I waited.  And the azaleas did not come.  And what’s worse, the rhodos did not go away.  I waited some more.  And the azaleas did not come, and the rhodos did not go away.  And I grew weary of the rhodos, and I yearned for the azaleas with my very soul.  And I waited some more.  And the rhodos would not go away.  And I panted after the azaleas, as the hart pants after running water, and I grew sick and weary of the rhodos in their sickly purple garb.  And I waited some more.  And when the azaleas, no Godot, finally did come, they were few, and they were tiny, and they huddled up their blossoms to withstand the travesty that New England calls spring..  And the rhodos still did not go away.  When June came and there were still rhodos in bloom everywhere, I had to suppress my desire to go after them with a chainsaw.

Azaleas, it turns out, are tropical ladies in their brilliant finery, and they suffer piteously in the endless New England winter.  Rhodos are Puritanical New England ladies, with their retiring habits of ostentatiously demure lavender and their orderly, symmetrical clusters of flowers, tough enough to withstand winter but with beauty faded and joy pinched away by the elements.  Azaleas are profligate, almost blowzy, in their blossoming.  Give me a brilliant slattern over a stately dame any day.

If I ever buy a house, the first thing I will do is pull up all the rhododendrons — because this is New England, there WILL be rhododendrons — and replace them with … almost anything.


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