Around this time of year a lot of people have trouble remembering spring. It's quite understandable, especially among city-dwellers. In the canyon of permanent shadows formed by skyscrapers, you walk down a street with trapped winds whipping old February newspapers about your ankles. Who's to remember what last April was like?
And so, even when the calendar tells them the vernal equinox has come and gone, the spring-forgetters remain "winterset," in Maxwell Anderson's phrase. You can recognize them at a glance as they scurry by. Their coat collars are still turned up, their shoulders hunched. They trudge and slop-step, as if still plowing through snow. In extreme cases their noses may insist on remaining blue. Somewhere in late January or early February the last thread broke that connected them to the repeating cycle. Their time-frame is stuck in winter.
How to thaw out this lost remnant, living one season in the past? Often it is enough for a friend or relative to unwind their muffler peel off their ski parka, and strip away their thermal mittens. They will blink, like friendly bears waking up, and snap right out of hibernation.
But there are more serious spring-forgetters who may still be forgetting spring as late as June -- a time of year when earmuffs are no longer regarded as merely eccentric but as possibly job-disqualifying. These are the people who keep their hands in their pockets in the house and blush and stammer when asked to join in a chorus of "The flowers that bloom in the spring, tra la."
Why, you ask, do people forget spring? They never used to in the Old Days.
The answer is that in the Old Days there were no skyscrapers to block out the April sun. Our feet actually touched springtime earth now and then, and not just cement, asphalt, and the accelerator pedal.
We were just a little more in touch with the universe.
Today, even in the country, we get our messages less than directly.
We know it's spring when the TV weatherman pulls down a chart and tells us it is.
We know it's spring when the evening news runs videotapes -- again -- of cherry blossoms along the Potomac.
We know it's spring when the classical disc jockeys play Mendelssohn's "Spring Song" and the jazz disc jockeys play "April in Paris" (one more time).
We know it's spring when all the people that were just trying to sell us snowblowers and woodburning stoves start peddling Easter fashions and air-conditioners.
We know it's spring when we see the first three-column picture of sunbathers on the front page of our local paper.
Spring has become a public announcement, and the spring-forgetters are not necessarily the last folks to pick upon robins -- merely the last to pick upon the rumors of robins.
The spring-forgetters are our reminder-ad-absurdumm that, more and more, all of us are inclined to lead second-hand lives. We do not register impressions --even our meteorological impressions -- for ourselves. We are constantly being told what is happening to us, even as it is happening.
We are like a pilot flying by instruments. In one way or another, it is our information systems that keep us posted. They let us know the instant we are in a recession, and the instant we're out of it. One hardly knows if one is poor until a computer tells one.
Are we and our neighbors happy and optimistic about the future? Never mind trying to figure it out for yourself by old-fashioned, firsthand self-scrutiny. A poll, accurate to 3 percent, will make the facts known.
If we must get spring too at second-hand, let's get our signals at least from something like E. E. Cummings's ode to "sweet springtime": Such a sky and such a sun i never knew and neither did you and everybody never breathed quite so many kinds of yes
Then let's go outdoors and say a yes or two for ourselves. Who knows? After we've had a firsthand spring, maybe we can get a little more in touch wit h other things in our lives as well.