Yesterday was one of those perfect “oh wow” spring days. After enduring months of frigid temperatures and wet, hazardous conditions, this morning presented me with a 80 degree clear blue sky gift.
I humbly accepted this present with a long walk around a nearby lake. I had only been to this park a few times, and ended up stumbling upon a set of cement stairs that seemed to rise to the sky. Well, of course, I had to climb them to see what was at the the top. They rose up the side of that hill, veering both left and right. When I finally made it to the top, breathing heavily I might add, I discovered a playground and what looked like a pavilion with picnic tables. I took a few cleansing breaths, snapped a photo of the view, and began my descent, which was much easier that the ascent. About halfway down I encountered a tiny garter snake making its way across the steps, one that had probably just rose up from its winter slumber. I said my hellos and continued my walk along the water. During the rest of the hike I saw a small turtle crossing the path, and spied a siege of white herons in one of the ponds ( Yes, I looked up what a group of herons is called: a siege. Don’t you love it?) I noticed a few insects buzzing around my head. Green buds were appearing on the trees and bushes. The wildest animals I saw yesterday, though, were humans. On this gorgeous spring morning I crossed paths with all types: serious bikers, casual dog walkers, chatty pairs of women, dedicated trainers, and gaggles of young mothers herding strollers and scooters. These humans, like the little snake, had ventured out of their own hibernation, blinking up at the bright sun while lacing up their athletic shoes. They took to the pavement with a sense of purpose. All appeared to be saying,” I will delight in the sparkle of this April morning.”
Coming upon this little snake on the steps reminded me of another spring story. When I was a young single mother, my boys and I lived in a duplex on a shady street. On one late April afternoon right as the trees were blooming in the yard, I went to unlock our back door. I glanced down at the patch of dirt next to the concerte steps, and at first I thought one of the boys may have been kicked a ball against the house, but then I noticed the ball was moving. On closer inspection, though, I realized it was a blob of gyrating snakes. I screamed, grabbed the boys as I pushed them in the house, and slammed the door. “What was that little piece of hell I just witnessed?” I asked myself. After a little research, I discovered that this is how garter snakes mate after they emerge from winter hibernation. Yes, they make new babies through snake orgies. You can look it up, but I warn you, the visuals will burn into the deep recesses of your brain. Even now I can see that mass of writhing snakes and shiver. Now, I know snakes, especially garter snakes are good for the environment, eating insects and all. I respect their place. That house and the next one I bought were havens for these little (and sometimes big!) reptiles. Some mornings before I reached for the paper, I would often find one sunbathing on the front porch. Other days I would hear a rustle as I weeded the garden, and know one or more were near. I came to accept their existence, but I never really got used to them.
I believe this is the message of spring. Spring reminds us to breathe in the joy, but watch our step. Spring may be rapturous in its abundance of pale pinks and deep purples, yet we’ve learned over the years to respect its cruel streak. Storms lie in wait. Destruction in the form of tornadoes or fierce storms often cross the dark horizon. Beneath the flowering dogwood may lurk a mass of garter snakes. But what we learn to do is breathe in the fragrance, see the beauty, and just step aside and let those snakes have their fun, or as Robin Williams once said, “Spring is nature’s way of saying ‘Let’s Party!’” Party on, you crazy garter snakes. Party on.