When skunk cabbage and ferns begin to emerge, you know that spring has begun.

Spring is here! . . . Or is it? One day it’s seventy degrees and mild, the next day it’s a gusty thirty. We can’t really rule out the return of snow until mid-April. Oh, the joys of seasons in New England!

I am anticipating spring more than usual this year. I’m sure I’m not alone in that – it’s been a long, cold, snowy winter. I saw a shovel on the curb with a neighbor’s trash the other day and I wondered whether it was broken or if it was just the neighbor’s wishful thinking. If it’s the latter, then I’m holding him responsible for jinxing us if another blizzard happens to pass through.

On these recent warm days, I’ve felt like I’m coming out of hibernation, shedding my heavy winter coat and boots for a down vest and sneakers. I can’t wait to transition out of polar fleece. Every morning when my husband and I kiss goodbye, we get zapped with static electricity. It was kind of funny at first, but grounding ourselves by touching wood to diffuse the charge is starting to get tiresome.

Despite this winter’s unusually frigid temperatures, I was able to stick to my morning walking routine, only succumbing to the treadmill’s beckoning on the bleakest or most windy days. With all the darkness, I was compelled to soak up as much light as possible, even if it was only the weak, January-morning variety.

I even tried manufacturing a bit of sun-themed scenery, thinking it might lift my spirits. One night, after shoveling the driveway for what felt like the thirtieth time this season, I decided to make a snowman. The snow was not the kind that stuck together well, so instead of going about construction in the traditional manner, I ended up carving the snowman out of one of the grayish white mountains that had built up in our front yard. It ended up resembling more of a snow-blob than anything else. Desperate for a little levity, I rummaged on the porch and found a colorful scarf, straw hat and shades to complete my sculpture. And for a few days, before it melted away, the tropical snow-blob actually did make me smile each time I saw it.

Recently I attended a five-day meditation retreat in the Berkshires. It’s always nice to get away, if only for a change of perspective. There was a major storm while I was gone and I relished every moment of being a guest at the retreat center and not having to go outside and shovel. Deep snow takes on a different meaning when you know you don’t have to lift a finger to move it.

I had managed to stay well all winter, but the second day of the retreat my stomach started hurting, and by the last day I was really sick. It’s no fun to be sick when you’re away from home. Feeling ill on a meditation retreat is especially challenging because meditation asks you to focus on sensation in your body and to let go of each distracting thought as it arises.

My meditation practice became a seemingly endless cycle of awareness and distraction. I’d tune in with my body and find that my stomach hurt, which would inevitably lead me to some sort of remedy-oriented thought, such as “perhaps some mint tea would make me feel better.”

However, being resigned to sit on my meditation cushion for the remainder of the twenty-minute session, I’d eventually get back to “hey wait a minute, I’m supposed to be meditating here.” Which would, of course, bring me back around to “but my stomach hurts!” . . . ad infinitum.

The only thing that helped me feel better was to walk outdoors. The retreat center is sited on a sprawling hillside estate, overlooking a lake. Normally there are a number of walking trails, but pretty much all of them were covered with two feet of snow and ice. The only place I could walk without significant risk of falling was on the driveway – which is long and actually quite picturesque.

It being the main entrance to the center, there were always cars going up and down the drive, so each excursion became a walking meditation. However instead of focusing inward, I was acutely aware of the ice beneath my feet and the presence of each passing car. At least the sun was shining.

Soon we’ll have rain instead of snow and the color green will return to the landscape in full force. The forsythia will bloom and the peepers will begin calling out from the woodlands. The robins have already returned. It won’t be long now. I think I can make it.

by Kezia Bacon Bernstein, Correspondent
March 2003

Kezia Bacon Bernstein’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168.