All the flowers of all the tomorrows are in the seeds of today. Indian Proverb
The baby was so tiny, nestled in the front-pack against its mother’s chest; only the back of its little head covered in long strands of dark hair stuck out for us to see. “How old do you think that baby is?” Cam asked. We were in the Detroit Airport a week ago Sunday, making our way home from our niece’s wedding in Virginia, and preparing to board the evening flight north to Marquette. The young mother stood over by the door to our plane’s gateway next to a Delta employee who was helping her with a stroller and what seemed like a multitude of bags. “Not more than four weeks,” I replied as we made our way closer to her. Seconds later, Cam and I, carrying the diaper bag and some kind of a blue cooler filled with baby things, discovered that I’d been way off in my guess of the infants’ age. “He’s six days old,” the mother said, hospital bracelet still wrapped around her wrist. “And we’re going home,” she added as we followed her down the jet-way and onto our plane.
I didn’t get to hear the rest of her story. Why was she flying with a newborn? And where had she been? And why wasn’t a family member with her on this flight? Questions were reeling through my mind as we watched our new friends, mother and teeny-tiny baby in his kangaroo-like pouch, gingerly sit down in Row 2. From Row 8, where we were now buckled in, we lost our view of her. But I can tell you this . . . every person, every single person who walked on that plane, glanced over at that little newborn baby boy and his young mother and they sighed and they oohed and they ahhed, and there was a hush in the air, even as the flight attendant, who was also oohing and aahing, prepared the cabin for take-off. It’s different with a newborn. With a three month old, you smile at the baby and you smile at the mother, and you offer to help if it seems like her hands are full. With a six month old, you smile even more broadly until you are rewarded with that wide Gerber Baby snaggle-tooth grin. With a nine month old, you clap your hands, and you hide your head and you pop up and poke your head over the plane’s seat in front of you, peek-a-boo!!!!!! You play games with a nine month old, but not with a newborn. With a newborn, you sit still in holy reverence, and you envision an extra blanket of safety around your plane, and you feel your heart breaking open with the knowing that this plane, the one that you are now on, is carrying a new life north to the place that he will call home.
I told this story the next night at Joy Center yoga. I told it because it had touched me so, and I also told it because I thought I could turn it into a metaphor. It was two days before the official start of spring, and the banks piled up on either side of Joy Center’s entry had never been higher and the snow was falling that evening and the wind howling and my theme of welcoming spring seemed ridiculous as we sat there with the rattling walls and the whistling windows. I shared that we’re in the newborn stage of spring here in the far north, that, like the tiny baby on the plane, spring is quiet and small and nestled in close, not quite ready to turn its face forward and show us a full view. And that’s when a yogini from Finland chimed in. “There’s a word for this time of year in Finland,” she said. “It’s translated in English as spring-winter. And when you say spring-winter to someone back home, they know exactly what you are talking about. Spring-winter”
We’re in spring-winter. This past Saturday, three days after the equinox, I skate-skied on a wide perfectly-groomed trail up into the hills and snow-covered woods. It was mid-winter skiing at its finest on a day in late March, and the signs of spring were few: the twitter of a flock of songbirds; squirrel tracks, maybe more than you’d see in January; a strip of sapphire blue Lake Superior, thawed-out and beckoning me back down the hills again hours later; a brighter sky than expected as I skid to a stop at the trailhead in the early evening. It was a wonderful four-hour ski and I was alone on the trail with all that snow and the crisp fresh air and my own spring-winter thoughts. My mind flew this way and that way with the flurries of snow. I thought of the book that I’m writing, that is on the home stretch, ready for a fine-tooth editing and a table of contents and a page of acknowledgements, the book that I’ve shared thus far with very few people, that I’m still keeping tucked close to my chest. I thought of other projects, too, ones that still are seeds of possibility, not quite born — and I wondered as I skied, what could possibly replace this heart-pumping, full-bodied skate-skiing fun when the snow finally does melt.
It’s an okay place to be, a good place to be, in spring-winter. Soon enough the days will heat up and the banks will shrink away and the streams of melting snow will run down the streets and we will be running, too, on sloppy trails of red iron-ore mud. And our projects, the ones that are just seeds, will start to take root and we will be planting our gardens and brightening our walls and scrawling our pens across new pages, and we will be bringing our babies, the ones that right now we are holding close to our hearts, out into the warm spring air. It the meantime, let’s enjoy spring-winter, this in-between season, where dreams can still be cuddled and coddled. When the plane landed a week ago Sunday in the clear cold of Marquette County, it was the pilot himself who was first off the plane, and he was carrying a diaper bag and a blue cooler of baby things and he was escorting this young mother and the newborn baby boy nestled against her out through the jet-way and into this northern season of tender beginnings.