What To Hope For Now
Welcome back, Persephone! Plus optimistic delights to get you through February.
For a few divine hours this weekend, Brooklyn looked like a gingerbread city. Frosted traffic lights blinked hazily over empty streets, and the usual clatter was muted by a foot of snow.
It reminded me of being a kid in rural Massachusetts, where the wind could turn even a minor snowfall into a giant white dune that covered half of our back door. Dad would dig us out to the driveway, then liberate the car, all before dawn.
Our little house sat at some kind of air-current vortex at the top of a hill. And some days, the same snow we'd just cleared would be whipped right back against the door overnight. So in the morning, we'd start over again.
I don't know why Dad didn't grouse more about the Sisyphean shoveling. He was not an exceptionally patient man, though he did like any activity that doubled as exercise. (He bought a motor-less push mower one year with glee. Think of the multitasking!)
Meanwhile, I still have a terrible time with repetitive chores. Without a giant scary project on the horizon, my brain goes soft, and those little in-between bits of household maintenance drive me mad.
Now here we are in the last mile of another angsty winter and all we really control is all those little bits of incremental progress that I used to hate. The big personal and national dilemmas we had two years ago don’t seem more resolved this year. Maintenance is the main gig, and I’m trying to get used to that.
But soon, and just when we can't stand chewing on the same stale winter problems anymore, there will be a day or two when the air feels softer, and the sun's angle has shifted. And somehow, our bodies will recognize these signals and remind us that we're not really stuck. Change is coming. Spring is coming.
There's a name for this, according to gardeners. We are nearing the end of what they call "Persephone Days," which are those months in the Northern hemisphere when daylight lasts less than ten hours and most plants don't grow. Here in Brooklyn, that day was January 29 when we got 10:01 hours of daylight. And some states further north cross over to growing season on February 9. (This calculation was brought to you by the fantastically named "Astronomical Applications Department" of the U.S. Naval Observatory.)
Those extra minutes of sunlight will rouse the trees and the planted bulbs. And before the end of February, the most defiant of flowers, the snowdrop, and the crocus will stick their heads above the icy parapet. Poet Letitia Elizabeth Landon called the snowdrop a "fairy gift from summer" and wondered why it bloomed so early because those tender stems will almost certainly be batted back down to earth by one last frost or snow. And yet, they show up every February.
Persephone was also a contrarian. She was the goddess of spring and fertility. But she also ruled over the kingdom of the dead with her husband, Hades. And she's in charge of the passage of the souls from one world to the other. Myth has it that she spends four months of the year underground then brings fertility back to back to us in March.
Persephone presides over loss, death, transformation, birth, rebirth, growth. She may just be the goddess we need in this strange era of starts and stops, tragedy and monotony. And she's another reminder that every spring, we get another chance to tend our own part of earth with a bit more care. She cultivates what could be called hope, a word that Mirriam Webster defines as "to cherish a desire with anticipation."
So yes, let's cherish our desire for a normal-ish summer with anticipation. Maybe we also dare hope that the world's exhausted physicians and nurses get a real vacation this year too.
Sure, we asked for all that last spring too. And it's still hard to see summer clearly right now. How do we know the next season won't bring another "variant of concern" or something worse?
We don't. But that's probably not the point. Maybe it’s about keeping the path clear for the next thing even if we don’t know what it will be. And that might be the practice of hope.
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SOME OPTIMISTIC DELIGHTS
For screenfuls of wonder, see photographer and conservationist Melissa Groo’s Instagram @melissagroo. Prints of her work are available at Untamed Photographer, an online art gallery that donates all proceeds to causes that protect the environment, ecosystems, and wildlife.
Here are three of the happiest songs we could find to get you through February.
DELIGHTFUL BABY OPTIMISM
Most of the planet has seen this goofy, heart-lifting video, but if you haven’t (and even if you have), here it is. Watch with sound on, heart open.
And lastly, some Derek Walcott, just because.
Love After Love
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
Housekeeping, again! When the newsletter test edition went out, the font looked microscopic and it’s taken a minute to fix that, so apologies for the delay. :)
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Thank you for reading, for your kind notes, and for your support of this wild endeavor. Yours, Susanna
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