March 2021

Waiting on Persephone

by Johnny Monster

Authors Note

Notes and introductory material in italics. Curabitur tincidunt arcu et augue tincidunt, eu vehicula magna tristique. Vivamus justo quam, auctor ut maximus eget, condimentum non ipsum. Morbi et odio quis dolor eleifend tristique nec sollicitudin erat. Vivamus nunc purus, tempor eu elit eu, aliquam volutpat eros. Duis vitae dapibus nunc, viverra venenatis odio. Phasellus eget tortor a enim egestas scelerisque. Curabitur urna erat, facilisis et malesuada ut, tempus at nisi. Vivamus porta, orci tristique euismod malesuada, mi mauris malesuada leo, id mattis eros nunc eget mi.

Spring can be deceptive. Or at least the circumstances surrounding her can be. It is spring. The calendar tells me so, and yet, here we got two feet of snow last week. In typical Colorado fashion, it's been in the fifties since and most of it is gone. Here we are used to warm, dry winters and cold, wet springs. Though two feet of snow after Daylight Savings is pushing it, even for us.

No wonder that it doesn't feel like spring yet. Not for me. And I miss it; I yearn for it. I never thought I'd say that.

I used to be a fall guy. The autumn was my favorite time of year. I found the gray and cold and starkness so beautiful. The colors in the mountains so exhilarating. A time of such potential, oddly, amidst the decay. I've always felt connected to the academic calendar. It has been a decade and a half since I've been in school, but the year starts in fall, it just does. And it ends in summer, when I run out of energy and need to burn away or melt and be reborn.

I love the way things come together in fall. Kids come in from outside and gather for school. Families come in from the cold. (At least in dreams.) My favorite holiday is in fall: Thanksgiving! Food. Parade. Dog show. Naps. Usually a board game with family and some booze. It doesn't get better than that. And apparently there's sports? See? Something for everyone. The perfect day. Disclosure: my racist uncle doesn't visit, and my mother can cook. Some of the myriad ways I am privileged.

But now here I am waiting for the spring. This time last year I was just getting back from traveling to California for work. The virus was on the edge of the news, but my wife and I were paying close attention. At the airport coming and going I saw a total of two people wearing masks. Two-and-a-half, if you count the man on the flight back who asked the woman sitting next to him to take a picture of him in "this thing" so he could tell his wife he'd been wearing it. He sheepishly put on a paper mask and shrugged. The young woman giggled and snapped the photo.

When I got home, my wife and I doubled down. This COVID thing could blow up, it could go on for weeks or even months . We were a new couple getting on our feet; it wouldn't hurt us to stock up and lockdown. We told our friends and family we were going to ground for a while, until this whole thing blew over. Some shrugged. My parents respected it, but were a little baffled. We'd canceled a family birthday dinner because of this? To them, it seemed like an overreaction.

But we didn't want to risk it for another reason. In early March 2020, my wife was still very sick and had been for over a month, since before I'd gone out of town. We felt she was heading in the right direction, but this also meant she was vulnerable, so we didn't want to chance anything. After all, her symptoms were serious and often severe. Shortness of breath, persistent dry cough, constant low-grade fever. Likely caught it at a festival in late January. Interesting symptoms, and a more interesting timeline, to be sure. But. Well... we'd think about that later (Update: It's later, and uh. Yeah, we're still thinking about that.)

While caring for her, I also got ...the flu. It was a much less severe case, but I had just recovered before I left town. We both felt vulnerable. We were... new. We got married in 2019. In the fall. At dawn, on the rim of the Grand Canyon. Then we drove home: first through the desert and then through the mountains as the colors were just beginning to catch in the trees. We came home in the autumn and started Our Year and went to ground and kept each other warm all winter. Then she got sick. Then I got sick. And then I had to leave. Now, it was time to get back on track. We buckled down.

And we were privileged. Spoiled. We both already worked from home. By choice. Because we love our home and each other. And out cat. No offense at all to couples who work differently, we just know who we are and what we like. That's why we put a ring on it. And we were economically stable enough to make a big-ass run to Costco and gas up the cars. All while keeping the cat comfortable at the lifestyle to which she has become accustomed.

So we held on tight. And a few weeks later the world caught up, and well, here we were. Late March, 2020. Everyone locked inside. Some more comfortable with that than others. But everyone with a perfect excuse to exercise their inalienable right to take a walk - right as spring was coming in. Among all the above-mentioned privileges, I forgot to mention that we also live down the street from a beautiful park with trails and water and this time of year, geese. Geese that you either love or hate.

My wife and I started taking lunchtime or late morning walks. Taking the same route every day you really start to meet your neighbors. Crow, Chickadee(deedeedee), Barn Swallow, Duck, Jay, and Goose. (And Raccoon, but they're another story.) Oh and people too, I guess. We're lucky to have nice generally humans around us too. But they are far less interesting to me.

This is - or will be in a few weeks - that time of year when geese start think about the birds and the geese, and get nesting. On our walks last year we watched the process unfold in stop motion day-by-day as spring rolled in. It was perfect. We were all forced inside. Close together. When the frame is tightened, the little things, simple things, are magnified and become beautiful. What's the quote, Love is attention paid?

This is around the time everyone starting getting IN to baking bread, remember? That's awesome, dude! We didn't bake bread; we got into... stalking geese.

"Oh she's getting ready to settle down, see her eyeing those reeds?"

"Why is he over there with her? Shouldn't he be back with his baby mama!"

It was a way to pass to time, to focus on something that we couldn't change but that didn't hurt us. New life getting ready to unfold in the middle of such death and pain and confusion. And unfold it did. As spring came through so did the babies! The goslings began hatching in a trickle that we could follow with such specificity as to keep tabs on individual families. And the bachelors.

But the babies. Nothing has filled my phone with as many pictures since my cat did well, anything. Watching the baby geese grow up was, some days, enough to get me up and out of bed. Well that, and Animal Crossing.

As the baby geese grew up, the threat of the virus grew too, and generally things just got worse. Yet in some places, big and small, people came together, human potential was witnessed and real compassion and sacrifice were demonstrated.

It was a powerful, horrible, beautiful, gut-wrenching spring... with baby geese! But the geese grew up and the spring grew hotter and boiled over into summer which was, for me, a violent blur. I endured it. Less with geese, but still with walks, and least until it got too hot to do so. And Animal Crossing. And my wife. Always my wife. But summer was hard inside the house too. Even though we'd lived and worked in the same space for a while now we were getting clumsy and feeling cooped up.

Summer wore on. Scorched on. And my usual savior, the fall, was destined to be overshadowed by: the US election.

There was no fall. There was only election.

And boy, was there election.

It never stopped. It just kept happening. We ate turkey and talked about it and it kept happening. And people still weren't wearing masks and the election kept happening and everyone kept talking about it. A 9/11 worth of people died every day and the election kept happening. We had stopped taking walks. No one was baking bread. Spring's greens were burnt off in the summer heat. Fall's leaves were ashes by the time I got back outside to see them.

I think I took one walk last fall. Or at least, I only remember one.

Look, we all have a favorite tree, right? We can just get that out of the way. I know we don't talk about it much, and that's fine. But I know you all get me here. So I had a favorite tree. We visited on our walks every day. It was one of the neighbors we'd check in on as we made our rounds, in between the geese and the barn swallows. A gnarly awesome thing. A waypoint for me, I think. An altar for some, maybe. A home for many, certainly.

Anyway, on my walk, last fall: It was the first time I had been out in a while. Summer's heat takes all the fun out of walking for me, and I had stayed in most of the late summer. But now I thought it would be good to be out and see how everyone was doing.

Not everyone was doing well. Not everyone was around anymore. Sometime recently, maybe even the day before, a crew had come through and gutted the vegetation along a part of the trail that follows a drainage creek. Absolutely ripped out all of the massive bushes, the small trees, the undergrowth. Pruned the big trees back to their naked trunks. And tore out anything irregular.

As I walked and surveyed the carnage, I started to brace myself for what I would find. The sun was setting and I was walking through a graveyard. I knew what I was going to see. It was dark by the time I got there.

My tree was gone. Literally a heap of sticks in the mud. The stump ripped out like a malignant mass and disposed of. The ground all tamped mud and debris, compressed with tire tracks. Those tire tracks still scar the contour of the ground even now. Most of the larger pieces had already been hauled off, but I could tell what was left was from my tree.

I'm glad it was dark. I don't think anyone saw me pick up a little branch. I don't think anyone heard me say a few words. Mostly an apology. A few curses too.

Look, maybe there was some sort of maintenance reason to do what they did. But I know that tree was a healthy tree, and not near any wires, or disrupting the path. It doesn't matter now. It's gone, with so much else. And I fear for all the other neighbors who won't have anywhere to come back to, when they return. If they return.

That was the last walk I took for a while. And then winter came in. Cold and numb. Christmas, for us, was incredible, but we were all still bracing for impact, and it came on January 6th. That destabilized me more than I thought it would, and despite its force, it doesn't feel like it ever fully resolved. It happened and then... it was over. Then came the Impeachment and its inevitable non-conclusion. A cold biting winter. A void. A good time to go numb. The worst time to go numb.

Still, I was privileged: close to my loved ones. Flexible work. Friends and family having brushes with sickness but overall coming away okay.

January ground to an end but brought no resolution. And if you ask me the hardest month of the entire pandemic, I would probably say February 2021. It was bleak and empty. I endured it. It's hard to say why I felt this way. Not much actually happened and maybe that was the problem. Tensions boiling and needing somewhere to go, finding... nowhere. If I review the historical data, I probably should have played more Animal Crossing. Instead I played Hades, again and again. Throwing myself at death repeatedly to massage out a rich and meaty story. The game has incredibly rewarding gameplay, and I was hitting it over and over like a drug. Getting closer and closer but not quite reaching the surface. Not quite getting the whole story. The promised land - always behind another door. Up one more flight of stairs, beyond one more hallway. Zagreus and I wondered alike, will there ever be freedom?

Not yet.

How could I not be a little skeptical about the return of spring? Or at least, a bit exhausted by the time she gets here? It's hard to trust this spring. It’s not her fault. Trust is another unexpected casualty of the last year. I'm even starting to doubt the seasons themselves can return from wherever they spend their off hours. When they do, will we even recognize them?

Last spring has become even more glowing and green through the haze of memory. This pandemic has been going on so long, I am getting nostalgic for the early days of it. But after the rest of 2020 and the way 2021 began, it is hard to feel optimistic about anything. Could this spring possibly feel like last year? Am I naive to hope so? And is the two feet of snow we got a week ago a sign of what to expect?

It's cliché to say that in some ways last spring was magical, and it's naive to think its ever possible to feel the same way twice. And it's probably disrespectful to try and remember any of last year, but pull it apart from the suffering. I feel the suffering. But I feel something else now, too: an energy that's been missing from me for a while, that I think is ready to make a return but doesn't quite know where to go or what to do and I'm not sure what to tell it. I'm ready to try. I want to have something to say and, well: the snow is almost gone.

And then on the other side of town, ten people are murdered in a King Soopers.

How are baby geese supposed to compete with that? What can Spring do to stop Death? She only delays it. But every fall, it comes for her too.

Or maybe each fall, she returns to it.

I'm afraid to return to where my tree used to be. I know much will come back, but a lot was lost that will take a long time to return, if it ever can. Jack’s tree cannot. And what happens to those who have no home to come back to?

I know many things will return with spring. I keep telling myself that. It's already here. Soon it will be April and I won't be able to deny it any longer. I guess that means I'm denying it now. In April, it will be Colorado's one rainy week: the best part of fall, ported over to spring. And you know what they say about April's showers. Last year, everything came to a head for me in early May. This year I am letting myself feel excited for it. This is completely new. I'm usually excited for school supply season and Halloween. Now I'm planning how to celebrate Beltane.

It feels wrong to make plans. I judge people for their excitement at getting back to normal. And yet here I am, tinkering with the ol' website I keep out back, and looking out for which geese are walking a little heavier and looking to the reeds. They are about to gestate. They don't have to wonder if spring will come. They just have to find somewhere safe to settle down, and make something new and beautiful.

I hope I can do that too. I am afraid to hope. Not because I don't have it, but because I do.