Spring break no longer means sipping margaritas by poolside. Like deranged birds, my family and I flew into Polar vortex terrain, wondering why all the traffic was on the other side of the Jetstream. The Polar Vortex sounds like a really cool movie with Hugh Jackman, but it turned out to be just really crappy weather.
Before we landed in New York, I looked down at streets that resembled a bad caulking job on a moldy bathtub – snow shoved into crooked lines, black and white mounds piled in corners like dead penguins – and I wondered if I took a vote, how many people onboard would be willing to continue on to Bermuda. Then I decided there were too many Yankee hats in the crowd and they’d probably redirect to Florida, which is full of alligators, drunken spring breakers, and prancercising retirees.
Being back in New York, I was reminded how ravenous people are for spring and color, especially after this dismal winter. A woman told me she saw a crocus pop up with the same enthusiasm as if she witnessed Lady Gaga fry up her steak dress for a neighborhood cookout. Being in Arizona, it’s easy to forget the appreciation for spring after winter’s starvation.
In reality, however, the only thing I miss about a New York winter is the excuse to stay indoors and read. I devoured three books last week, which had me thinking about hope and spring and what motivates us to carry on in terrible circumstances.
The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingslover was a book I had always meant to read, but for one reason or another never got around to until recently. Hope and community are common themes in her work.
“‘There’s a whole invisible system for helping out the plant that you’d never guess was there’ . . . The wisteria vines on their own would just barely get by, is how I explained it to Turtle, but put them together with rhizobia and they make miracles.” —The Bean Trees
In the back of the book, she is asked in an interview how her hope is faring these days:
“I would say that I’m a hopeful person, although not necessarily optimistic. Here’s how I would describe it. The pessimist would say, ‘It’s going to be a terrible winter; we’re all going to die.’ The optimist would say, ‘Oh, it’ll be all right; I don’t think it’ll be that bad.’ The hopeful person would say, ‘Maybe someone will still be alive in February, so I’m going to put some potatoes in the root cellar just in case.’ And that’s where I lodge myself on this spectrum. Hope is a mode of survival. I think hope is a mode of resistance. Hope is how parents get through the most difficult parts of their kids’ teenaged years. Hope is how a cancer patient endures painful treatments. Hope is how people on a picket line keep showing up. If you look at hope that way, it’s not a state of mind but something we actually do with our hearts and our hands, to navigate ourselves through the difficult passages. I think that as a fiction writer – or as any kind of writer – hope is a gift I can try to cultivate.”
In Kingslover’s book Animal Dreams, Hallie writes to Codi: “The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. The most you can do is live inside that hope, running down its hallways, touching the walls on both sides.”
I love that line . . .
The last book I just finished was Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. It’s an excellent YA read, and without going into a full review, I will say, I saw Eleanor as the epitome of hope; her upbringing is tragic and she survives by essentially disappearing. She is like a bulb in the ground, waiting for spring. And spring is Park, pulling her to the surface. It is that beautiful, without a shred of sentimentality.
“Desperate was white noise, as far as Eleanor was concerned – it was the hope that pulled at her heart with dirty little fingers.”
How I love that line, and yet, on my Kindle, which tells me the popular highlights, no one had noted it.
I wonder if this is the reason I rarely use gardening gloves when I plant, clawing at the ground to feel the dirt in my nails. The texture is as gritty as hope itself.