The only thing I miss about a Michigan winter was how it ended. The change would come in flashes at first — a random 60° March day, early April’s sudden spate of crocuses, that first night you can sleep with a window cracked open. Inevitably a freezing cold snap or freak snowstorm would disrupt those joys. But usually by my mid-April birthday you’d start to see weeping willows grow fuzzy with neon green buds. Spring euphoria usually arrived that following week. Full bloom abounded with the dawn of Taurus. That’s when it felt like every single person around me had ingested some kind of happy drug. On that first really warm day, when even the shade of a flowering magnolia felt balmy, I’d don a dress or skirt and bare my winter-whitened legs. Ah, that layer-less liberty! It felt like the whole world was in love. No doubt many Michigan babies are conceived when the air is fragrant with late April blossoms.

When I moved south, I quickly noticed warm weather mania doesn’t hit as hard here. Weaker winters beget earlier springs. The season is in full effect by the vernal equinox. Only the bitter coldness that can freeze over a Great Lake will set you up for the intoxicating aroma of thawing earth. I haven’t smelled that odor in years, because it just doesn’t get that cold here.

But pandemic winter brought a different sort of chill to this past season. Many of us stayed inside our houses so often and so long, when it was too cold or rainy to enjoy the outdoors. Now we are in bloom. Warmer temperature not only hastened the burst of daffodils and cherry blossoms, but also the ability to be with each other outdoors again. Do you know we’ve hosted TWO different friends in our backyard this week, and it’s only Wednesday? I continue my daily walking habit as I did throughout the winter, but now I’m dodging other pedestrians right and left. Every single one of us wears a stupid grin. 

For the first time in over a decade, I’m feeling the mass euphoria again. It’s as if we’ve collectively drawn a deep, cleansing breath and everyone’s exhaling at once. The feeling in the air right now reminds me of northern spring and my birthday, though it’s five weeks away. I know even for the South this is all very early. Maybe we’re not done with the cold yet. I remain grateful for this particular phase of climate change. We all so desperately needed this lazy stroll in the sun.

But even if we see a return to wintry temps, that won’t stop the vaccinations. I got so used to thinking this pandemic would go on forever, it didn’t hit me until very recently that I could also get the jab soon. As botched as this nation’s vaccine rollout has been, I expected it to take way longer. At first I just felt so happy for the wave of nurses showing off their bandages on my Facebook feed. They’d been through so much hell, I still tear up at the thought of them finally getting safe. Then came the teacher wave. I don’t think I’ve hit that FB heart reaction emoji as much as I have in the past few weeks. I didn’t foresee how relieved I’d feel for every one of them. When my professor husband got his first shot last week, the reality set in. My time is also drawing near. As an ex-smoker, I qualify with the next vaccine group at the end of this month. And for the first time in a year, I see the whole world in bloom – not just the flowers and trees within walking distance of my house.

I’m still keeping my expectations in check. Masks and distancing will remain the public norm for me (and hopefully the state where I live). I don’t expect a return to normal anytime soon, and I firmly believe the old “normal” cannot be fully achieved. But I do think there’s a strong possibility I’ll be able to hug some of you soon. If you’ve already been vaccinated, I’ve added you to my mental inventory of soon-to-be-huggable people. And when I get my shots, I hope you’ll be ready for these arms. They’re a bit fluffy from a mostly sedentary year, but that just guarantees a softer embrace. 

A tree on Irving Street

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