Out There: Spring fever

Raised in Colorado's snowy climes, my soul was conditioned by both nature and nurture to leap at that first whiff of spring.

herb keinon (photo credit: )
herb keinon
(photo credit: )
Raised in Colorado's snowy climes, my soul was conditioned by both nature and nurture to leap at that first whiff of spring. From as early as I can remember, I was taught that spring is wonderful. For instance, in elementary school we sang paeans to spring much like one I recently found on the Internet: Spring makes the world a happy place You see a smile on every face. Flowers come out and birds arrive, Oh, isn't it grand to be alive? In high school John Denver's "Annie's Song" blared from the 8-track player: You fill up my senses Like a night in a forest Like a mountain in springtime Like a walk in the rain And in my college English lit class we read lines like this from Percy Bysshe Shelley: And Spring arose on the garden fair, Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere; And each flower and herb on Earth's dark breast rose from the dreams of its wintry rest. In other words, spring is good, spring is renewal, spring is rejuvenation, spring is life. The converse was implied: autumn is bad, autumn is stagnation, autumn is deterioration, autumn is death. I grew up with that, I internalized it and I believed it - until I moved to Israel. HERE WITH the onslaught of spring - with that first 28-degree day, that first day of completely dry and still air, those first ants scrambling up the sugar bowl, that first real hot day fickly followed by a real cold day - my soul doesn't leap, it limps. And it limps not because I'm crotchety or because I have hay fever. It limps because I'm realistic. I live in a country where we read from right to left. In the east, or at least in the Middle East, springtime isn't the herald of reinvigoration, springtime is the portent of enervation. It doesn't take a lot of years in this country to realize that what follows the first sandstorm sweeping in from North Africa - our less than romantic harbinger of spring's arrival - are not pleasant days of wine and roses, but scorching days of relentless heat. Brace yourselves, for we are fast approaching months when the radio weather report will sound like this: "Today, hot; tomorrow, hotter; the day after, hotter than usual." We're talking about days of searing sun and cloudless skies, of still air and dusty hills - and this is all before global warming kicks in. And that prospect, with apologies to John Denver, doesn't exactly fill up my senses, but rather melts them. I look out the windows now at the Judean Hills and see them dusted with the green of winter. Green, rolling hills. It looks like Ireland - maybe not exactly like Ireland, but a little bit like Ireland. But I know that in no time that green will be gone; Ireland turned into the Sahara in the blink of an eye. The green will be replaced by brown and by yellow - colors that will remain until after Succot, until autumn, which is truly our invigorating time. ONE SUMMER day a number of years back, I was trying to wow my visiting father with the view from our balcony. "Beautiful view," I said, pointing to the barren desert hills at our feet, yearning for his approval. "Really something, eh?" "No trees, where are the trees?" he grunted. "But dad," I said, "Think of Georgia O'Keeffe. There's beauty in the desert." "Sure," he said, "if you're a lizard." As painful as this was to hear, there was some truth to those balloon-puncturing words. Wonder why 500,000 Israelis jumped into their cars last weekend to have a look at the flowers blooming in the Negev and on Mount Gilboa? Simple - because of the knowledge that in two or three weeks those fields of flowers will be gone, their red, yellow and blue panorama turned into a hazy shade of brown. Or as Yaakov, the guy who sits next to me in shul, pointed out the other day in the middle of davening, "This country's snails have it right. They hibernate in the summer. Why? Because it is hot and miserable and dry and they don't want to die (Now there's an uplifting fellow to pray next to)." But he's right: Israel's field snails - the ones you pick off inland trees in the winter, wondering how they got there when the beach is so far away - clam up in the summer and only emerge from their shells with the first drops of rain. Who knows, maybe there is a deep truth hidden somewhere in this summer hibernation. Maybe in this country it's the snails who really have things figured out. And why is this crusty need to de-romanticize spring so important here? Because it parries off depression. For years I felt bad for feeling bad about the coming of spring. It was unnatural, I thought, to want the winter months to extend; to dread the coming of March, April and May. What was the matter with me that I would opt for cloudy days rather than cloudless ones, for rain rather than shine? But then it dawned on me that this was not bad, not a sign of a dreary outlook on life - rather a natural sentiment in this sweltering part of the world. Those Western cultural icons who idealized spring had it wrong, or at least - from our point of view - they had it backwards. But it figures - Percy Bysshe Shelley never lived in Ma'aleh Adumim.