Before sunrise this morning, there was a briskness which I breathed deeply. It reminded me of fall. Late fall, to be exact. Maybe even post-Halloween, when temperatures surprise you with their lowness. The kinds of temps which, in Tennessee, one doesn’t expect until December. I worried my flannel-shirt-and-hoodie combo wouldn’t be enough, but I also knew the temperature was going to rise at least twenty degrees, and I was only going to be outside from the garage to the car.
When I rounded the back-left corner of my RAV4, moving to the side where no light from the house reaches, a pale sliver of white—incorporeal-seeming in the pre-dawn black—scurried off soundlessly down the grassy alley formed by ours and our neighbor’s fences. It was as if a fuzzy rectangle of moonlight had freed itself from the ground and broken into a full sprint. I decided it must be a rabbit. We know they’ve birthed at least two litters in the backyard, if nests found while mowing count as evidence. Once on a separate night, I walked out into the backyard and was startled, as something apparently alive shot off in a blur from the shadows behind my boys’ swingset. This, too, had to have been a rabbit.
The odd thing, however, is that despite all evidence these dark encounters were with rabbits, I still felt that little rush of a touch with the unknown, because I couldn’t see them well enough to make a positive identification. On both occasions, all I could sense were fast movements and pale blurs. Perhaps a primordial fear of the supernatural tried to overcome my good sense, but I resisted it by telling myself they were only rabbits. Or perhaps the unseasonably cold temperature had me in a spooky frame of mind, mentally somewhere in the vicinity of Halloween, which is a place I tend to hang out anyway.
It’s the first day of spring, i.e., the vernal equinox, and on a near-distant hillside at the southern edge of Nashville, just above the walls of limestone exposed by dynamite blasts from when they built I-65, tufts of green have appeared, almost as if overnight. I see them while I eat half a granola bar in the solitude of a vacant office, inside the 70s-era, four-story, castle-like (minus the towers, crenellations, and medieval fenestrations) brick building which houses the reference lab where I burn a weekly forty. Bark flapping on a river birch, which I see from a different window, resembles the toss-and-lift of preening bird wings.
Spring has its beauty, but it also means the heat is coming. It means flower beds need a new layer of pine straw, weeds need spraying, and the lawn needs—gulp—mowing (I cringe every time I hear a neighbor’s mower crank up; I delay this chore as long as possible, but it’s like some of my neighbors just can’t wait). So I’ll be spending the next few weeks trying to figure out how to pause these milder temperatures, and how to make the redbuds and the dogwoods hold onto their blossoms a little longer.
It’s thirteen minutes past eleven p.m., and I could sleep, but I’m too stubborn. Because there’s still a capacity for wakefulness in this winter-weary body.* Winter-weary–yeah, right, says the New Englander or the Michigander. How is a Tennessean winter-weary? Because for three nights out of the past five, I have slept in a hotel in my own town, away from my wife, away from my kids, all because there’s a possibility that sideroads may be treacherous and impassable. This is life when it snows or, more accurately, ice-storms in Nashville. Trucks brine the interstate; people with buckets scatter blue salt over concrete stairs and isolated parking lots; and the administration at the laboratory where I process cancerous tissue five days a week takes the initiative to ensure its workforce’s safety and its capacity to perform its important job by generously providing hotel rooms for those of us able to stay. Every specimen is a patient. I never forget the human at the other end of the tissue that I’m processing, because I know that we are all grasping for our lives and for the lives of those we love. We cling to this vapor of earthly existence, no matter what we believe about the hereafter. If we humans unite behind anything, it is this: we’re all trying to stay alive. This is our impulse. Perhaps it’s the purest instinct. And we don’t let go of it until there are no other options; until it’s wrested from our slack hands.
How does one not think of Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night” in a post like this? So I cling to consciousness, because it’s my impulse, even though I should be sleeping. I didn’t inherit that napping gene that brings so much joy to others (neither did my oldest son). I stay awake until I no longer can. It will take its toll later in the week, when I can’t keep my eyes open past 8:30 on Friday night. But for now I soldier on, writing this blog post, thinking about how rarely we have a good snow in middle Tennessee, about how people lose their minds when the temperature drops below freezing, and about how we’re all together (even though we don’t always like each other) in this endeavor of life.
*Winter-weariness is not altogether bad. I’ve written elsewhere that I often feel more alive in winter. Weariness can coexist with contentment, it seems.