The Promise of Spring
While on my daily afternoon walk, a new and cherished pastime during this strange and unsettling societal shutdown, I was reminded of certain rituals and how they give meaning to the changing currents of life.
In Boulder, CO, where I live, spring is usually marked by an uptick in tourists enjoying the longer afternoons on our historic downtown walking mall. Four city blocks are blissfully immune to car traffic: a space to wander in and out of coffee shops and little stores, listen to street buskers, or grab a meal on one of the many patios. And all of this takes place in the glorious shadow of the iconic Flatirons, as picturesque of a backdrop as you’ll find anywhere.
Like other pedestrian-only walking malls throughout the country, notably in Burlington, VT, it was a deliberate design on the part of the city to encourage Boulderites and visitors alike to congregate outside and luxuriate in a space free of exhaust fumes. And it is because of the stark change of atmosphere right now, with all of us being sequestered in our homes, that the glaring absence of people, the silence of life, feels so dramatic.
One of our most storied local traditions is the planting of 15,000 tulips every April, grown in Amsterdam and planted by the city for over 30 years now. Their stunning color and variety, planted in hundreds of flower beds along the mall, mark the true arrival of spring, celebrated with the Tulip and Elf Parade, where hundreds of children dress as elves and fairies and parade down the mall with their parents in tow. It’s pure delight and merriment, a welcomed tonic after the snowy days of winter have seen their due.
Yet in this year of the pandemic, the elf and fairy costumes are lingering in the back of the closet, unworn and waiting for a more mirthsome moment. Perhaps some of those children will wear those very costumes on the since-canceled date of the parade and share fairy stories on Zoom, our ubiquitous connector during this profoundly disconnected moment.
Like in many small towns, these events are the very lifeblood of the community, rituals that take on layers of meaning the longer that they go on. The tulips that we plant every year represent more than their singular and obvious beauty; they hold a special place in how we perceive the passage of time, a way to mark our place in a fleeting existence.
And so it was, as I walked down the mall, strangely absent of any life, devoid of its usual hum, not a fairy or elf in sight, that something seized my eye: the first tulips had been planted, their bulbs young and vibrant; a tangible reminder of spring’s promise, coronavirus be damned.