In the desert, spring is hard to notice. In years when there is no outbreak of colorful flowers, the signs of the shifting seasons are even more subtle. You might notice that some of the leaves seem slightly greener, a few cacti might blossom, and some softer plants may be growing where only hard, crusty plants had been before. The desert’s subtle shifts remind me that spring is much more of an explosion of fun in the non-desert parts of the world. The swings between life and death in the north, for example, are more extreme than the constant struggle for water and life in the desert.
Driving across the country, from New Mexico to Kansas City, we realized that we were driving into spring. Caught in a week of bad weather, we spent a lot of time looking out the windows of our van, eating corned beef sandwiches. It wasn’t fun to be confined inside a smellier and smellier vehicle for a week in the cold rain, but the rain eventually stopped, the sun came out, and the corned beef was eaten. Somehow this unpleasant week grounded me and made me really appreciate our experiences on this trip. It was the first, longest episode of not fun that we’ve had in six months and it makes every other day seem that much sweeter.
Or maybe I can thank spring for feeling more settled and calm. We’ll still find some cold and extreme weather in the mountains, but the overall uncertainty about winter is over. As our friend Ben observed, “You’ve made it through winter!” And it wasn’t bad at all.
After being blinded by poppies in New Mexico, I started noticing the redbud trees in Oklahoma. They stood out pink against the rusty dirt — nature with a case of fashion faux pas (red and pink together! The horror!). Then the dogwoods started popping up, canopying the understory with a blanket of snowy white flowers. Both grow throughout the woods from Oklahoma through Indiana (and over much of the southeast), but the best areas are the places where their ranges overlap and the pink and white blossoms pepper the forest side by side. A good representative of this area is the Mark Twain National Forest in southern Missouri.
As we headed father north and east, spring started getting crazier. We spotted lilacs and hyacinths together in Kansas. Many varieties of daffodils and narcissus popped up on the side of the road. We stopped to grab some from an untended patch by a field in Indiana and their sweet scent filled the van with fresh aromas. One thing was noticeably missing — my favorite beacon of spring, the magnolia. We missed Kansas City’s magnolias by about a week, but hope to catch up with them as we continue north. I’m crossing my fingers that some will have hung on in Chicago.
Oh, how I love spring.