When you live in the South like we do, seasonal traditions are few and far between.
Our leaves do not burst into flaming color to announce that fall has fallen. Nor do we pine for a white Christmas, having done our present-opening comfortably in shorts, thank you. And while you go on about your infinitely better Northern holiday ways, may we hand you that ice scraper for your windshield?
But what a year this has been, even here, cold, harsh and intolerant, our landscape browned, our Southern selves wrapped in unfamiliar coats to shield us from the chill.
Oh, but today.
Today marks the first day of spring, here and everywhere from Portland to Pensacola, Kansas to Key West, the official end to this strange spate we've endured, even if it stubbornly lingers a little longer.
Today, everywhere, we start thinking of things going green again, of cleaning house literally and politically, of — not to put too optimistic a face on it — hope. Change, even.
Around here in our version of the season, we sneak off to spring training games on weekdays — scandalous! — with that heady into-the-wind rush of high school seniors skipping school. We loosen ties, sip cold beers and crack peanuts, a baseball field spread out before us. Trust me, this alone can render a person hopeful.
Fat red robins are taking over brown yards, and smatterings of pink soon will be sprawling riots of azaleas, everywhere. Remember our jacaranda trees, in all their blooming purple glory? We almost forgot about them in these strange, cold months. But get ready, they're due back soon.
Now we start thinking of spring cleaning of the political kind — of throwing the bums out, keeping the ones worth keeping or selecting the best of a new crop like separating good tomatoes from rotten. Come November, we get to do this as high up as the U.S. Senate, as close to home as the School Board. Much to do to get ready for what's next.
As it turns out, that spring fever of 2008 for hope and change did not mean the magical snapping of fingers to render the mess left behind into instant, peaceful perfection. Change, as it turns out, comes with having a plan for change for a change, not just damning the one the new guy came up with.
"How's that hopey changey stuff working out for you?" former Alaska governor and self-proclaimed rogue Sarah Palin has been heard to mock lately, because why would you want your fellow Americans to have either when there's partisan politics to snark about?
And how I wish one of those "Miss Me Yet?" billboards would sprout up on our own landscape. Might be a nice reminder, now that sleeves are rolled up and folks are in a serious sweat, of what we came from and how much we have left to do.
Because it looks like hoping for change means time and work and digging past what's stubbornly entrenched to get to something better. Apparently, this entails blisters, and also maybe getting your hands dirty.
Maybe one day, grandchildren gathered round the supper table will hear the tale of the Fall and Winter of '09 and '10, or The Year Florida Wore Gloves.
Maybe the grownups will also tell of a historic year when America took a shot at fixing what ailed health care, too. Hope, the saying goes, springs eternal.