So why, oh, why do we stay in this benighted land? Many have moved on - it's no coincidence the Ohio Territory settlers, the '49ers of the California Gold Rush and the missionaries to the Hawaiian Islands were heavily stocked with New Englanders.
I think we stay on for spring. Yes, yes, it's true that our driveways turn to mud and our lawns become marshlands. It's true the season lasts only four weeks and the color display is, shall we say, somewhat muted. (To someone south of the Mason-Dixon line, New England is spring looks like a vaguely cheerful post-apocalyptic landscape; The Walking Dead with a few daffodils.)
But no one - no one - appreciates the season more than we do. Sunday was the first day in over five months that that temperature rose to 65 degrees, and Mainers reacted like it was V-E day. People were wearing sleeveless tops and t-shirts. Drivers in antique cars kept safely garaged all winter hit the road, their windows rolled down and arms hanging out. Motorcycles, unseen for the past five months, were revving up and down the county highway. And everywhere, everywhere, we all had the same dumb grins on our faces, ritualistically greeting one another with, "Isn't this amazing! Can you believe how warm it is? Cod-belly-white faces turned up to the sun in awful adoration.
Here at my farmhouse, we spotted the first crocuses on Saturday, and nearly wept with joy. (Keep in mind, it had snowed three inches on Friday.) Everyone left the house to visit the miracle-shrine in person. The grass - what can be seen between slowly melting snowbanks - is still brown and withered, but I can promise you, when the first shoots arrive we will all look at it with the appreciation most folks give to the Da Vinci paintings in the Uffizi. "Look! The grass! It's green!"
Next will come the days of Forsythia and Narcissus. Only in our northern clime can their tepid yellow and wan white be so cherished. I suspect in most states forsythia is (rightly) viewed as a noxious weed, not a cherished landscaping plant. Then, finally, spring's crown, the lilac, that most New England of shrubs - gnarl-branched, woody, lives for centuries and blooms for a week. Roses have Robert Burns and daffodils have William Wordsworth, but New England's lilac has Walt Whitman in a different vein:
Lilacs, the dead president flower.When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
Chill and soggy and pale and unlikely, we still cherish our New England springs with a bliss unmatched by anything, except maybe the Sox going to the World Series. Spring has the benefit of at least coming reliably each year.
How about you, dear readers? Is spring the great joy in your neck of the woods? Or perhaps your clime has another date or event that dazzles the citizens?