As any immigrant knows, there are a million little things that continue to be different from ‘home’, long after you’ve settled into the big differences. For me, mapping the seasons onto the calendar is one of them – in particular, answering the question of ‘is it spring yet?’
In Ireland, Spring starts February 1st. For me, February being a spring month is problematic, not least because of the knock on effect this has for the rest of the year – there’s no way I’m ever going to accept that August is an Autumn month. I’ve learned enough Gaeilge bhriste to know that putting October as the end of Autumn makes sense, but I still can’t escape the feeling that early November is Autumn. And from a British perspective, fireworks and baked potatoes and toffee apples on November 5th are definitely not the markers of a winter holiday, but an Autumn one. Admittedly, one where we celebrate the king not being dead by burning Catholics, but the dissection of problematic UK traditions is for another post.
So despite bantering with my husband about it all, I’m generally fine with him thinking February is the start of Spring. February 1st is St Brigid’s Day – one of Ireland’s patron saints and our first known abortion provider – her festival lines up with a Celtic festival of Imbolc, which is all about renewal and so forth. I still think February is too cold and grey to count as Spring – for me, Spring starts March 1st, St David’s Day.
As I write this on March 2nd however, it still doesn’t really feel like Spring. In the UK and Ireland, we’re currently being held hostage to the ‘Beast From the East’; I’m stranded in Belfast unable to get to Dublin due to heavy snows. I’m still not sure If I’m going to get home tonight. I actually *love* proper snow – I love how everything looks, I love the magical-ness of it, I love wrapping up warm and staying in and then going out in the cold and throwing snow around and wandering in snow swirls. But I would like it to melt now, so I can go home. I would right now accept ANY day as the start of Spring, whether St Brigid or St David or St Melty McMeltFace – as long as it felt like the weather was going to change and not get worse.
Despite my frustration and despondency, I did notice a few signs of Spring earlier this year, even before March 1st/St David’s Day. I don’t feel any particular connection to St David, not being Welsh or religious in any sense. But I do feel a connection with one of the traditional St David’s Day flowers – no, not the leek – the daffodil.
In school, we used to get given a daffodil at the final school assembly before Easter break. The class prefects would go up on-stage, and the headmistress would give them each a bunch of daffodils, and they’d give them out to the class afterwards. When I think about it, it’s pretty random – but I got used to getting daffodils around springtime.
I also grew up hearing a fair bit of Wordsworth. My great uncle had a wonderful memory for poetry, and would often quote ” I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills… ” around springtime. If I close my eyes, I can still hear him saying it. After I left England, he used to write to me and I wrote back – we would have sporadic fits of correspondence, before one of us – alright, it was always me – forgot to write back. Birthdays and Christmases would be times when we’d start up again; I never got a card that didn’t have a letter inside. But as well as that, I’d get a letter around springtime, usually with a line of Wordsworth inside, telling me that the daffodils were out and the seasons were turning. I came to know that within a week of spotting my first daffodil, I’d be getting a letter, with perfect handwriting and warm wishes and Wordsworth. I remember one year I spotted daffodils (a veritable host no less) two or three days in a row and thought to myself that this time, I’d write first. I didn’t, because I was struggling at work, and busy, and because honestly, I didn’t make the time. And I didn’t get a letter that year, because my great uncle died that spring. I will always regret that I didn’t write that letter.
I could write a whole book about my great uncle – I actually did a school project on him once (write about a person you admire that you have met). He taught me a lot, but the most important thing he taught me was that it was okay to be myself. I don’t think the path of my life turned out the way my family expected it to – not that I’ve done anything particularly radical or bizarre, but I had a very middle-class, middle of the road upbringing. Whatever decision I made, whatever I told him, I got told I was ‘a canny lass’, and ‘to thine own self be true’. At times when I was maybe struggling to be myself, through problems with work, or mental health, knowing that someone loved me unconditionally, and didn’t care what I did as long as I was being true to myself was all I needed to hear. And getting letters about daffodils, letters that still treated me as a person when a lot of people treated me like I was broken, were some of the best support I could have had – even when I was too depressed to write back.
Even now, when I see daffodils, I think of my great uncle and how much I miss him. He died seven years ago, before I was married, before I moved to America (and back), before I finished my psychology degree and started the work that’s becoming my career, before I started doing any abortion rights activism, before I bought a house. A lot has changed in my life over those seven years, but with every passing year, I know I’m being more true to ‘mine own self’. And so whenever I see daffodils in springtime, I take comfort in that.
This spring is the first in our home. I cannot tell you how happy I was a week ago when I walked up our driveway and saw these in the front garden:
As some of you may know, our gardens were massively overgrown and neglected. It’s been very much a case of cutting back and hoping the nettles don’t regrow and overtake everything again. Finding my very own daffodils, right outside our house, meant I knew that it was spring, even in February. They brought a string of happy memories and all those feelings of renewal that Imbolc represents.
Then, of course, Storm Emma happened.
I’ve avoided the worst of the weather by being in Belfast – although there’s a couple of inches here, it’s not bad at all. But my husband is in our home, keeping it warm and trying not to get cabin-fever. Our garden is COVERED in drifts of snow. I realised on Wednesday that my daffodils – I have mentally taken protective ownership of them, despite not knowing how to care for flowers at all – were probably not going to survive the week. Unbidden, he sent me this:
My husband saved my daffodils.
Now since then, another 6 inches or so has fallen on Dublin, and I’ve told him not to spend the day just digging through the snow to find them. Despite being a sentimental fool, I know that these few flowers are no match for the snow drifts, and that uncovering will probably just expose them to another battering. My head knows this.
But my heart, sentimental fool that it is, knows that buried underneath all the cold, springtime is here. And that my home is, and always will be, the one place where I can be myself, be everything that I am, and that it will always be okay.