Spring is a time of nakedness and exposure, and in these early days, it can be downright unattractive. For some, that’s how we feel about our winter bodies. The first shorts or t-shirts of the season show all time spent indoors for the past several months. As the season progresses, there may even be bathing suits. I live in the northeast, so that’s a big stretch at this point. For me, it’s the day I can wear sandals for the first time, and all I want to do is paint my toenails, adding a splash of color. Beyond our bodies, though, the world around us is also naked.
In the fall, we’re busy watching the leaves change and drift to the ground. We’re excited to pull out our sweaters, get busy with school, the upcoming holidays, bone fires, and hot cider. In winter, a thick blanket of white coats everything. This year we had several feet of snow from November until March. There was at least a little snow every day or night this entire winter. Now, it’s all melting away, making room for new growth.
But for a few weeks, we’re in that in-between phase. The melt exposes what we don’t want to see. We try to distract ourselves by hunting for the green heads of daffodils shooting up from the softening earth and the happy faces of crocus like we’re in a manic search for Easter eggs. We might even be counting rounds of robins as they peck for worms. But along with that, we also find the remnants of the past seasons. Forgotten dregs lay bare by the evaporated snow—the shameful winter weight left out for the world to see.
Piles of petrified dog poop left by neglectful walkers. Socks, hats, gloves, masks, coffee cups, bottles, condoms, diapers, shoes, broken sunglasses, the pile of shopping carts pushed by a plow to the back of a parking lot. Collapsing to the pavement as the snow disappears. Sand coating the ground. The long-ago abandoned cars in the woods. The mind wanders as to how it might have gotten there so long ago that seeds have since dropped from the overstory or left by squirrels. Which then sprouted, rooted, and grew into thick, lush trees which are slowly pushing in from each side and crushing the automobile—inch by inch.
Our mess is so easily forgotten and left to the side. Our discarded actions, a worry for another day. But here it is before the vegetation kicks into high gear, covering our complacency. Possibly the April showers will carry it to creeks, then streams, then the river, and eventually the ocean. Out of sight, out of mind. Where did the abandoned office chair caught among the rocks in the creek come from?
But the exposure brings a chance to face our mess and clean it up. To look the less pretty side of springtime in the eye and notice our momentary lapse, our forgetfulness, of believing some fantom mom will come up behind us and take care of it. Could much of this be avoided? There are no loose dogs in my neighborhood. They are all walked on leashes. It is a conscious act not to clean up dog poop when you’re the one walking it through a public park. It’s a deliberate act to carry a Dunkin Doughnuts cup into the woods, sucking down the liquid energy, then not having enough energy left over to take it home.
Community clean-ups happen all over, which is wonderful. I clean up around mine and when I’m on the trail. My husband and I clean up along the ocean shoreline in Maine each spring. Gathering up the unwanted items the sea has thrown back. Giving us a chance to do it right. To fix it.
Or we could look at the mess when it’s staring us in the face and think about how it got there and what part we played. With the plastic bag ban in NY, we have fewer plastic bags and fewer plastic ghosts caught in the tree branches. But with COVID, they’ve been replaced by used masks and gloves. Accidents happen, but accidents every five feet are on purpose. There are options. There are choices. There are ways to make these few less pretty weeks of spring more magical and focused on the season ahead.