First Days of Spring
Der spring is sprung
Der grass is riz
I wonder where dem boidies is?
Der little boids is on der wing,
Ain’t dat absoid?
Der little wings is on de boid!
Spring in the Bronx, Anonymous
For most of us, spring is finally here (or did we miss it already?)
Throughout the ages, people have looked forward to the first days of spring, even longed for them. We wait for the colors to emerge from the dull greens and grays of winter – the first purple crocuses, pushing their way through the lawn, heralding the panoply of flowers that soon will follow.
It is a time of romance. Tennyson perhaps stated it best when he said, “In spring, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” And that applies to young women – and older people of both genders, come to think of it.
The term spring fever aptly describes a feeling that seizes you with its urgency and impulses, driving you to pursue the object of your desires, or go on pilgrimages, depending on your particular cast of mind.
I remember the first time I was interviewed on the subject of spring fever by a reporter from the New York Times. I was standing in my office at the National Institute of Mental Health, watching a pair of turtle doves conducting their courtship ritual on the window ledge outside. Mr. Dove waddled towards Ms. Dove with determined strides. She walked away (he would have to try harder). So, with feigned indifference he turned his tail feathers on her. That rekindled her interest and now she was the pursuer. And so it went. I told the reporter what was happening on the window ledge and lo-and-behold, the turtle doves appeared in the article.
The reason the reporter was calling me in the first place is because I have studied the effects of seasons on the human mind for many years. They continue to fascinate me. I am firmly persuaded that many of the changes we experience in the spring (or in other seasons, for that matter) are driven by changes in our biology. Although these alterations are complex, here is one well-studied example. The brain chemical serotonin plays a role in feelings of happiness. Serotonin transmission in the brain is influenced by antidepressants such as Prozac, which may explain some of the benefits of these drugs.
Yet serotonin is influenced by many non-drug factors as well, for example the amount of light to which we are exposed on a given day. Basically, the more light, the more serotonin. Now, during the dark winter days, we are starved of serotonin. The receptors on our nerve cells crave serotonin almost like the receptors on the tongue of a dehydrated person crave water. When such a parched person takes a sip of water, it tastes and feels amazing – like nectar. That’s how it can feel to a person after a long dark winter when all of a sudden, light comes pouring down into his or her eyes. No wonder we experience spring fever.
Here is how he described them:
The passions of these people are periodical, and their courtship is usually carried on soon after the return of the sun; in fact, at this time, they almost tremble from the intensity of their passions and for several weeks most of their time is taken up in gratifying them.
Now I can’t leave this topic of spring without mentioning the very strange and unusual way in which it has burst upon the scene this year.
Henry David Thoreau observed the arrival of spring from his beloved Walden Pond as follows
At the end of winter there is a season
In which we are daily expecting spring
And finally a day when it arrives.
A flock of geese
now in the dark flying low over the pond . . .
I stood at my door and could hear their wings.
I have often thought of Thoreau’s words as I have strolled out to fetch my newspaper in the morning at the end of winter and said to myself, “Has spring arrived? No, not yet . . . “ until finally, one day I declare, “Yes! Here it is!”
In contrast to previous years, the big question on my mind – and many other minds – is, “Where has spring gone?” Suddenly, it feels like summer with temperatures in the 70s through much of the country. Maybe spring will come back and take another bow before leaving us this year. I hope so. In South Africa, where I grew up, we had no spring or fall to speak of – just summer and winter. And I have come to love these transitional seasons. More importantly, the disappearance of spring raises concerns about the pervasive influence of global warming on our planet.
But that is a topic for another day. The important topic of today is to greet you this spring with open arms. I encourage to submit your thoughts and comments below and look forward to sharing some of them with my network. For those of you who want to find out more about the effect of seasons on the mind and brain, my book Winter Blues (Guilford Publications) is due to be released in its fourth and latest edition this coming August.
Wishing you Light and Transcendence