Once, in a long ago winter, I was so hungry for spring that I tried to plant sweet peas indoors.
I’m not ready for spring.
These words have never come out of my mouth before. Every March, I kneel down to welcome the first crocus, gasp with delight when I glimpse the yellow witch hazel blooming in the thin, cold light. But this year, when I saw tips of the daffodils pushing up through the cold mud, my reaction was, Oh, no. Please not yet.
Winter has often been hard on me, with the long darkness shutting down the light. The isolation of COVID only increased this threat. I tried to stay busy, working hard on my writing, and taking care of my family, but I knew that if I wasn't going to be able to get out and do things, and see people, I would need something else to beat back the darkness.
On some life-saving instinct, I signed up for two art classes. In one, we draw detailed portraits in charcoal and graphite, in the other, we paint loosely, with lots of color. The spare bedroom is now full of art supplies—enormous cold-pressed sheets of archival paper, graphite, charcoal, inks, erasers, brushes and a big easel. I absolutely love it in there. I draw or paint something every day; the art has cracked me open, and something long-buried is coming out.
This quieter, more solitary life has done me good. For years I faced outward, reflexively trying to please everyone. I spent so much time keeping up appearances—hair, nails, face, body, car, house, garden—and keeping up functionally—working, writing, volunteering, exercise, entertaining, reading, news, social media. I spent so much emotional energy caring for my family—one child and another and another and another—nurturing, consoling, feeding, one eye always on the horizon, scanning for danger. But during this long COVID winter, by which I really mean this whole last year of sheltering in place, I let go of so many of the extraneous things, and my gaze softened and turned inward. My guard came down. I filled the time I used to spend pleasing others mostly nurturing myself. As a result, I seem to be remembering something vital, and it might just be who I am.
Once, in a long ago winter, I was so hungry for spring that I tried to plant sweet peas indoors. I bought heirloom seeds, and pressed the wrinkled brown orbs into pots filled with fragrant soil. I watered and waited, and waited and watered, until magically, tiny sprouts appeared. I cared for them, day by day, as they grew into sturdy, upright seedlings. On the first beautiful warm-ish day, I took them outside, like babies, and lovingly set them on the rock wall, for a few hours in the sun. I didn't yet know that seedlings must be acclimatized slowly— brought out for only an hour or two at a time, first in the shade, strictly protected from the breeze, exposed a little more each day. My seedlings, which were bright green and upright in the morning, were bent over, weak and pale, by the afternoon.
I guess this is what I fear—that what has taken root and sprouted in me this dark, year-long winter might not yet be sturdy enough to withstand the light and air, the chatter and the busyness, of our metaphorical spring.
Sarah Balsley’s essays make us feel less alone. She writes about holding our families together in hard times, reconciling the blows of middle age, and searching for meaning and beauty amid the struggles of daily life. A Yale graduate with an MFA in creative writing, a wife, and a mother of five, Sarah’s work has appeared on NPR, in Brain Child, and at Tue/Night.com.
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