Winter doesn’t officially end until March 20, and there are pockets of snow — handfuls, like fallen snowballs — tucked among the pachysandra in the cool shadow of the house, but it is already springtime in my heart. A schoolteacher told me many moons ago that March is named for the god Mars and that on some most-ancient Roman calendar it was the first month of the year. That is undeniably the right and proper order of things: We feel the sap rising. We feel that March is the true start of the year, just as it’s obvious, and we can feel it, that February is the year’s gruesome and grizzled end.
I get very peppy in spring. It somehow took me until middle age to notice what should have been obvious all along: How much my moods and motivations are at the mercy of the seasons of the Earth. I should expect to be down and dreary from Thanksgiving through Feb. 28, and I should expect to be brimming with energy and new schemes in March, April, and May. And so I’m charging around today, removing yellow hollandaise-sauce stains from white sweatshirts; clearing old jars of weird pickled vegetables (bought in a panic during the supply-chain crisis of the early pandemic) from the pantry; making dreaded phone calls postponed for weeks; applying a scrub brush to the moss-green insides of the goldfish tank, and thinking up sneaky new ways to spread accurate news videos from Ukraine on Russian social media.
March to me does have a martial sound, the sound of drums and pipes. March is the Montauk Friends of Erin St. Patrick’s Day Parade, an occasion for frozen toes, chapped cheeks, and the levity that comes from being outside in the elements too long but knowing a warm Irish whiskey awaits you. March is anticipation. By the Ides, I start checking each day to see if the daffodils have bloomed, although they never do arrive until April, and we have to make due with the crocus. (The crocus of March is always a bit of a disappointment — like a candy in bright cellophane that doesn’t taste as good as you’d hoped. With its outsize head and weak stalk, a crocus never achieves a pleasing proportion.) March is when spring sports begin in the schools; I’m eagerly awaiting the first home game of the East Hampton High School lacrosse team and the moment when I get to lean on a chain-link fence in a raincoat watching my daughter outrun the other girls.
Of course, March will forever be Covid month, stained in memory by the 24 hours two years ago when airports, supermarkets, town squares, theaters, classrooms, bars, parks, parking lots, malls emptied overnight. All the people disappeared from public spaces, and how strange that was. The most persistent memory of March 2019 for me, personally, is a daily dog walk up Dayton Lane, checking out the daffodil situation by my neighbors’ picket fences — green, still green, no yellow yet — and shrinking to the far side of the sidewalk, dragging Sweetpea by her leash, as a jogger huffed into view. Do you remember how fearful we were of strangers? Remember how we didn’t wear masks in those first weeks, how we washed our groceries in pails of bleach, and left the incoming mail hanging in a plastic bag by the front door for four days, in case it carried germs?
My children were only small three Marches ago, when time was deferred and the world began to float in suspension. My son was a bantam-weight 10-year-old boy with a mysterious on-off fever lying on the living room couch under a fluffy microfleece Canadian-flag blanket and my daughter was a 12-year-old girl experimenting with black eyeliner alone in front of the mirror in her bedroom. Today we wake up to our morning scrambled eggs and they are nervy adolescents of 12 and 14, ripping off their face masks and ready to shoot with velocity out of the house, to the tune of Kanye West’s “Bound 2,” in this spring of freedom.
March, in my mind’s eye, is Mons Meg, the famous iron war cannon with a 20-inch barrel at Edinburgh Castle in Scotland, and my two adolescents are the cannonballs: Blast! Blast!
This week has brought a mental clarity that I, myself, haven’t felt in years. The horror show of what’s happening in Ukraine is, today — maybe just this morning, maybe just this day, Tuesday, as the people of Kyiv and Kharkiv stand up, lionhearted — almost overpowered by the inspiration of what’s happening in Ukraine. The exhilaration is not likely to last, but my head feels like it has cleared after a years-long fog-aura of a migraine: Which side are you on? Naturally, anyone with common sense — that is, anyone with the common sense not to get their daily news from a propaganda organization — has been on the anti-autocrat side all along, but with a thunderclap the clouds have parted. The bare light of day shines down, and every country and every person is forced to take sides. Turns out most of us don’t like it when delusional and megalomaniacal autocrats, with their weapons of mass disinformation and their killing machines, invade sovereign nations. We’re all afraid of what March may bring to Ukraine, but, in this moment, the lion roars.