Walks in Spring Redux

I’ve walked in the spring before of course, and each year there’s an anticipation to getting out and enjoying some warm weather. The parks and trails have cleared of snow as March progresses, and I’m starting to hear birds as they return. It hit more than 15 C the other day to bring out the early shorts wearers, and the sun is always welcome. So why not get out, go for a walk, soak up the warmth, and get some exercise.

That’s been my plan for the past few weeks, to be honest, but it’s been a slog staying motivated and getting out regularly these past few weeks. The weather has been up and down, with clear days then rainy ones. Paths are muddy and the woods are dreary without their green shoots. We are still a couple of weeks away from buds on trees and the first spring flowers.

But this is a spring like no other I’ve known – the elephant in the room is the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing means trying to limit contact with others, and in our case, we have been self-monitoring because my wife was at a conference recently and at least one attendee has since been diagnosed as having it. We’re fine, and it’s been 11 days now, so I don’t think there’s an issue, but still it makes you think.

My fallback when early spring weather makes a walk unappealing has been to catch some spring training baseball to remind myself that warmth and blue skies are on the way, and I could do that earlier in March but that’s now on hold due to the COVID-19 epidemic.

Thinking about baseball reminds me that, if you are a batter and the pitcher throws 4 pitches outside the strike zone that you don’t swing at, then you get to go to first base with a “walk”. It’s telling that there are different verbs used – you “earn” a walk, or are “awarded” a walk. It’s like it’s a prize.

So for me, spring is the perfect time to “earn” a walk. I earn it by feeling healthy and able to go out, so I can “award” myself a walk as long as the weather gods pitch me some decent weather. Social distancing is important, of course, so choosing where to walk to avoid people is part of the planning now.

But since my energy levels have been low this spring, that’s a reminder that Getting fresh air and exercise is important. I’ve gotten a bit out of the habit of long regular walks so I need to jump back on that horse, COVID-19 or not.

Hi Ho Silver indeed.

Early Spring Walks

Out for a walk today, it occurred to me that there is a special character to walks in early spring. The thought hit me quite literally, when the raw biting east wind slapped my face and chilled my ears. That’s it – the wind.

March, as the saying goes, comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. Here in Toronto it’s usually a pretty cold lion. When you get a snowy winter as we’ve had, that snow has to melt, and melt makes moisture which dampens the air so that what would be a brisk breeze on a sunny day becomes a bone-chiller despite the sun.

I’ve just finished a book called Where the Wild Winds Are, by Nicholas Hunt. He’s a travel writer who set out to follow the path of some of the famous winds of Europe, such as the Mistral. That put the idea of winds and walking in my mind. Despite the kick from the east wind today, we don’t have a famous wind here in Toronto. The prevailing winds are from the west, while east winds signal changes in weather and often storms. North winds come year round as fronts move through, and southerly winds happen often enough as well. We don’t have a Hogtown Hoot, or a Toronto Torrent, or a Blue Blast. We just have relatively tame, boring winds that change direction fairly often and change temperature with the seasons.

Still, that snippy east wind today did remind that it’s March and March means winter’s end and warm climes to come. March means school breaks, and the return of baseball, and thawed out barbecues. And of course, March means spring and flowers and birds and trees in leaf. March is a transitory month – a window and a promise of the season to come, and yet also a reminder and kicker to the season we’re leaving. March means change.

March also means walking is depressing and cheering at the same time. Depressing because the melt-off reveals the crud and garbage that has been hidden in snow banks, and the snow by the roads has become grey-black ice – the result of accumulated car exhaust that makes you realize you’re breathing that in as you walk.

March roadside loveliness – Eglinton West near Avenue Road
Nothing changes – Toronto, about 1856 – must be about March, you can see the puddles and bits of snow on the edge of the road

And yet cheering because when the sun is out, and early season birds are singing, you feel the promise of warmer days to come. Sometimes that chill breeze swings around to the south and becomes a warm breath. Then people are bouncier, cheerier, positively bursting for spring – you get the early shorts-wearers even if the temperature is 0C, and teenagers toss winter clothes aside and head out in T-shirts to show off pale arms.

March is often a tough month for walking, because the ground is melting and muddy, with water and slush everywhere combined with hidden icy patches. Sidewalks are often still narrowed by snow banks, and park trails aren’t cleared yet. The wicked gust that chills your walk also lifts the moisture and dries the ground, slowly but inexorably.

So in March, I try to get out as much as I can, but it’s a chore more than a fun walk. I just tell myself that April is around the corner and then May will bring greens, reds, and yellows to replace the browns and greys of winter and early spring, so I grin and bear it, put my head down, and march past the lion.