As this paper goes to press, it may be a stretch to imagine spring – grass, daffodils, tulips, violets and forsythia. Color of any kind – in the grass, on the lake, in the sky, on trees or on bushes – seems a dim memory, even after Monday’s teasing gentleness.

Memories of this difficult winter abound: snow piles as tall as a first-grader; two-lane streets so narrowed as to allow the passage of only one car at a time; snow too light to pack for snowballs or snowmen; colorless sunrises; deciduous trees cracked and evergreens tinged brown by wind – and that wind so biting at times it was difficult for us to take a breath. There are other memories: neighbors banding together to shovel sidewalks or cheerily pushing a car from an ice patch or snow bank; gratitude for warmth wherever it was found: a coffee shop or restaurant, a fire at the hearth or a single candle, boots or socks, hat and gloves.

It may be that the most memorable aspect of this past winter is the silence. The deep snow seems to have blanketed not just the land but the air, muffling the routines and disruptions of daily life and allowing our minds to expand into the ether pressing down on us.

A runner-up memory is the ice – not just the slippery roads and sidewalks but the majestic ice cover on Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes.  That ice cover was a benefit, helping to limit the amount of both evaporation and of lake-effect snow, which sucks up moisture from the lake.

Even as the past few months might be considered our “winter of endurance,” the coming weeks could translate into a “spring of sustainability.” With visions of polar vortices and radial shakes still in our heads, we may be teased into looking at the signs of spring more deeply and appreciatively. 

As the trees and grass awaken, we may be glad that the City uses a beet juice mixture for de-icing, one that is kinder to the planet than the strictly harsh salt mixtures. We may be a more likely to mulch and less likely to use toxic chemicals on lawns and gardens, more likely to consider native plants and less likely to prize an emerald-green carpet for a lawn, more likely to use rain barrels and soakers and less likely to run a sprinkler in bright mid-day.

Because, whether one calls it “global warming” or “climate change,” our planet is showing signs of wear. It needs our stewardship for maintenance and for healing. Most everyone knows a few things to do to leave a lighter footprint on the planet, but perhaps it takes a polar vortex to put them in place.