March has run its traditional lion-to-lamb gamut, with heat waves and cold snaps that had us thinking spring, then summer, then winter again. But with April, there’s just no denying that spring is upon us, moving fast, and there will be no more turning back.
As the days started getting longer, the Life & Arts department got together to talk about what spring means to us, from a reason to shake off winter’s lethargy and start moving again, to the agony of a stuffed-up nose. Here are our signs of spring. Maybe some of them are yours too.
Indoors to out
For me the first sign of spring is the peepers, the little frogs that make that high-pitched racket in swampy woods. One evening it’s quiet, the next there’s a choral concert that tells us the frogs have emerged from their winter slumber.
Soon we’re taking the sap buckets off the maples as the pale green flowers appear on the treetops before the leaves show up. And if you don’t think maples have flowers, ask any beekeeper. Or any allergy sufferer.
I feel spring in the dark mornings when I’m walking the dog: in the cool but not cold breezes, in the ruckus the geese make on the lake, in sight of the constellation Scorpius, sinking low in the southern sky just before dawn.
Then comes the progression of blossoms on my morning commute — from magnolia to forsythia to flowering crab — and of flowers in the yards I pass — from crocuses to daffodils and hyacinths to tulips. Next comes the greening, as the gray and brown world we got used to all winter suddenly comes to life again. There’s a freshness in the air, warmth in the sun and noise in the mornings as the birds return from their season in the south.
I know it’s spring when my son digs into the back of his drawer for his shorts, then announces loudly that something has happened to them over the winter because they no longer fit.
In spring my cold-hating daughter and husband get happy again. The chickens start laying eggs like crazy and our lives start moving from indoors to out.
— Margaret Hartley
I love opening the windows to let fresh air circulate through the house. I love hanging clothes on the line and that fresh outdoor smell that permeates the garments.
I love the birds chirping in the morning, though it sometimes drives my wife, Dana, nuts.
I love sitting on the deck on a warm spring evening and enjoying the sunset, perhaps grilling burgers or hot dogs at the same time.
I love the purple and green blend of the lilac bush in my yard. And the lilac smell is one of nature’s great gifts.
Spring is special because it’s when both of my kids were born — March 31 and May 4 — and it’s when Dana and I got married — May 30.
Oh, and there’s one more thing:
“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again.”
— James Earl Jones, as Terence Mann in “Field of Dreams”
I like a lot of sports, but baseball is my passion. When I was a kid, I played as much as I could, and I carried a bat almost everywhere I went. At 6 or 7 years old I asked Mom to write down the names of all the Major League teams by division so I could memorize them. I loved NBC’s Game of the Week on Saturdays and listening to the Red Sox, Yankees, Mets, Indians, Phillies, Expos, anybody I could find on the radio at night. I still like baseball on the radio, even with all the games on TV now.
I love the leisurely pace of the game, and that there is no clock. I’m fascinated at how perfect the diamond’s dimensions are, how runner and ball always seem to arrive at bases at almost the same instant.
I love the crack of the bat. I love gold glove defense. I love a kid smiling from ear to ear, holding the foul ball that Dad just caught and handed over.
I love the 4-6-3 double play. I love the ball rolling all the way to the wall and a daring runner challenging the right fielder’s cannon arm to get an extra base. I love the squeeze play. I love how impossibly green everything in Fenway Park is at the beginning of April.
Football is our national sport now, but Terence Mann was right: Baseball has been a constant in America. It is a rite of spring. And I can’t get enough of it.
— Tom McBride
Flowers and hiking
For me, spring is hanging laundry outdoors so I can listen to the birds sing and watch clouds float through the sky.
The first wildflowers are yellow: cowslips in marshy places and coltsfoot in the fields and roadsides. In the woods, ferns lift spiraled heads and painted trillium pop through the brown leaf floor.
I hop on my bicycle and vow to ride more miles and conquer big hills. In the spring, I pretend I’m Lance Armstrong.
I look for Mr. & Mrs. Mallard. They appear every spring, paddling around in the same woodland puddle.
Sixty years ago, when Harry Truman was president, there was a house across the road and the woman who lived there planted dozens of daffodils. The woman and her house are gone, but her daffodils live on, hidden from view in tall grass and trees. I pick a bunch every year.
Every April, when the peepers sing for sex, I tell myself that I’m going to get a good look at the elusive little buggers. When dusk comes, I will don my big green rubber boots, walk into the murky muck and stand very still with a flashlight. Could this be the spring when I finally go frog hunting?
It’s reading a gripping novel outdoors while sitting in an old lawn chair with a cup of tea.
For the past few springs, wrens have nested in a bush outside our bedroom window. We gawk through the glass as they feed their big-mouthed babies. It's the best nature show ever.
On weekends, spring means eating lunch and dinner outdoors, just the two of us, at the wooden picnic table.
And it’s putting on my magical hiking boots. When I lace them up and take those first steps in the Adirondacks, my heart floods with happiness, as if the joys from every hike I've taken in those humble shoes have somehow lodged inside.
— Karen Bjornland
Beats summer heat
Springtime . . . for Wilkin . . . in Albany.
If that sounds like something from the cinematic and theatrical smash “The Producers,” it is purely intentional. Although my ideas for April differ from those proposed for old Hitler during the spirited song and dance on screen and stage.
For starters, I’m mostly an autumn-winter fan. I’ve never understood the excitement over summer’s 90-degree temperatures, constant assaults by bugs and noise.
But I have learned to appreciate factors and facts that make April and May more favorable than July and August.
For one, baseball season returns. I like taking a radio out in the backyard, tuning in the New York Yankees and rooting against the pinstriped pinheads with a few cold cordials for company.
In spring I switch from firewood indoors to charcoal outdoors. I’ve got a gas grill too, but like charcoal for my first outdoor grilling adventures of the season. This year, I’ve got some apple wood, and that will go into the mix when the first massive cheeseburgers and marinated chicken chests hit the fire.
Spring also means my walking shorts come out of hibernation. My collection of flannel lounging pants and blue jeans will go into storage around Easter — today. I’ll be stepping around in Bermudas until the World Series.
April and May are also the two months where I really appreciate flowers. Tulips and lilacs are upgrades from the golden bunches of marigolds I grow in my front and back yards. Tulips score points with me for their vibrant colors. Lilacs just have that springtime smell.
The lilacs are actually in my neighbor Dino Barbato’s yard, and the natural perfumes from these white and lavender flowers drift into my yard. You can’t miss the fragrance — it’s like the guy who walks into the office saturated with Aqua Velva, Old Spice or Hai Karate. Maybe all three.
Dino split off one of his plants a couple of years ago, so I’ll have my own private stock of lilacs in a few weeks.
Recreation also improves with April. It’s easier to run and cycle outdoors when ice, snow and wind are not slowing you down. All athletic diversions are more agreeable when the temperature is in the cool and comfortable 60s and not the obnoxious and oppressive 90s.
I must have been a polar bear in a former life.
— Jeff Wilkin
Tennis and bike path
Throughout much of my 20s, 30s and 40s, a sure sign of spring was enjoying good enough weather to be able to play outdoors at Schenectady’s wonderful Central Park tennis facility.
I remember one such day — an April 1 from almost 30 years ago, when I teamed up with three friends and played a mixed doubles match that was something to remember. The tennis was OK, but what was so memorable was the day: 75 degrees, sunny and calm, and three great friends to hit tennis balls with, the kind of a day that’s a gift from the heavens. We were all fools that day, playing far too long and spending way too much time in the sun for our first outdoor experience of the year. But nobody wanted to stop.
Over the past decade, I haven’t played that much tennis at Central Park, sticking to the softer artificial clay courts at the Saratoga Spa State Park or at a friend’s private court in Voorheesville. All of which makes this year so much more exciting, because just two weeks ago, in the middle of March, I was playing outside at Central Park with a good friend. It was great fun for a lot of reasons, but mostly because the guy I was trading groundstrokes with has just beaten cancer, and I hope to continue playing with him until we’re both in our 90s. Unfortunately, another friend recently died of cancer and he will be missed because for more than two decades, the first day of tennis at Central Park was usually spent with him.
Spring means walking along the bike path from Blatnick Park to Lock 7.
There are plenty of wonderful views in the Capital Region, but for an easy access hike with a great look at the Mohawk River, there are few scenes better than this Niskayuna landscape.
Once you park your car, you’re just seconds from the top of a wide open field and a beautiful elevated look at the mighty Mohawk. A 20-minute walk takes you down along the banks of the river to Lock 7, where you might be lucky enough to see a bluebird, a blue heron or a bald eagle. You can walk the bike path any time of year, but, while not covered with too much snow this winter, it is usually icy and treacherous from December through March. So, wait until it’s spring, and wait until the New York State Barge Canal is open. Talking to people as they take their boat through Lock 7, on their way from the Great Lakes to the Bahamas, is always something special.
And the third sign? Did anyone say Jumpin’ Jacks? Enough said.
— Bill Buell
Havoc of allergies
Spring is not my favorite season.
Granted, it’s better than winter — almost anything is better than snow and bitter cold (although we’ve gotten off easy). And I do love the first few warm days that come after a long winter, when wearing sandals, shorts and a T-shirt in 50-degree weather suddenly seems appropriate.
But a few weeks into spring and all kinds of things start sprouting and growing again, and I say goodbye to breathing through my nose for about a month as my seasonal allergies kick in.
I’ve suffered from seasonal allergies for as long as I can remember. For most of my life, I’ve been on some kind of nasal spray or another. But I grew up in California and Okinawa, Japan, where the flora and fauna are used to a more moderate winter and the seasons change without much notice.
During my first fall in New Hampshire, in 2003, I had a sore throat and stuffy nose, my usual signs that I have a cold coming on. A month later, and I still felt like someone threw me under a bus. My new doctor told me it was just allergies, and prescribed me more nasal spray and another allergy medication, neither of which did anything.
I survived as all the plants began shedding their leaves, and winter was relatively painless, but nothing could have prepared me for what my body would do in the spring. I remember waking up one morning with my nose completely stuffed — like, glued shut. I couldn’t even sniffle to see how stuffed up I was. A few hours and multiple different nose sprays later, and my nose was still full of what I can only describe as Super Glue.
For close to a decade now, I’ve been dealing with the havoc that Northeast seasons wreak on my body (I’ve found that Claritin-D is probably the best drug for getting rid of all the nose glue). Things got so bad in recent years that I had to have sinus surgery, in February of 2011. I’m breathing a bit clearer now, but as I write this I’m feeling that sneezy tickle in my nose that signals an allergy attack coming.
Maybe the mild winter means Mother Nature will go easy on the allergens this year, but it can’t be a good sign that I’m already feeling the symptoms.
— Brian McElhiney