Here’s the thing about winter in Minnesota: we complain about it (and, thanks to social media, we now complain to an international audience), but secretly we love it. We love the challenge, we love the beauty, we love the thrill of the ole Man vs. Nature-type conflict. We love the elemental, primal pain of the freeze of skin, the bite of wind, the soul-crushing squeak of a boot against the ice. We love it.
Here’s the thing about this last winter: even people who love the winter got sick of this dang winter. It was the dinner guest who would not leave, the bar patron who nurses his beer until five a.m. It was the guy who raises his hand at the end of the meeting and goes on to ramble for an hour before someone shuts him up. It was the pitbull of winters – the jaws locked, and it did not let go.
At this time last week, I was shoveling thick, heavy, pitiless snow.
By Friday, I looked out my window and there stood my son surrounded by nine other boys from the neighborhood. All were holding a bike or a scooter, or some kind of wheeled implement of motion. All were sweaty, filthy and smiling. And none of them was wearing a shirt.
For the next sixty hours, the street rang with the calls of boys. (Girls too, but the girls on my block are quieter than the boys. Which is not to say they are quiet – they aren’t. But those boys are friggin’ LOUD.) And it was glorious.
Now here’s the thing about my neighborhood. First of all, it rules. I love everyone on my block. Knock on a house, and a writer answers the door – or an artist or a graphic designer, or a builder, or a small business owner, or a social worker, or a teacher, or a free-thinker, or whatever – and offers you a beer. There are front-yard bonfires and massive easter egg hunts and random coffee-klatches that last for days. A collection of smart, deep-thinking, widely read, independent, creative people, and I love them all. And the kids! Crowds and crowds of kids. They run from yard to yard, tangling in alleys and livingrooms, crowding into the playhouse in the back, running wild in the field behind my house. They make discoveries in the creek, make plans under the bridge, and build new worlds in the trees. There are twenty-seven kids living on my block (and two more on the way), and it rules.
The boys shed their shirts on Friday and didn’t put them back on until the start of school on Monday (with protests). They are drunk on spring. They are high on sunshine and dirt and mud and water and skin and one another. Tomorrow, for May Day, the temperatures will drop, and the snow will fall – in great gushes – once again. No matter. The game continues. The shirts will shed. The boys have declared their Summer Reign, and they will not be vanquished.
Every time I see them howling outside, I think of a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, called “Epithalmion”. Here’s a bit of it:
“By there comes a listless stranger: beckoned by the noise
He drops towards the river: unseen
Sees the bevy of them, how the boys
With dare and with downdolphinry and bellbright bodies huddling out,
Are earthworld, airworld, waterworld thorough hurled, all by turn and turn about.”
Happy Spring, everyone!