Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - April 12, 2013

First spring

The signs seemed to come slowly at first. One day, I noticed that I could smell the earth. Another, I caught a whiff of the familiar sweet fragrance emanating from the honeysuckle near my parking spot at work.

The "official" first day of spring was March 20, but Mother Nature surprised spring break travelers by dumping snow on large portions of the Midwest. And cold weather a few days this past week has caused people to bring out their winter clothes again.

But now the signs of spring are coming quickly. Cardinals are singing earlier in the morning. A swallow is building a nest in the entryway above our front door. Forsythia bushes have burst into color almost overnight. Yellow jonquils and daffodils have popped up, and trees are practically erupting into green. Even the dandelions aren't quite so unwelcome this time of the year.

People seem to have "come alive," as well. One of my students commented that she noticed more people are smiling and she thought it was because the days are sunny and warm. During the weekend, a neighbor washed his car and mowed his lawn. Another lined his rock wall with large outdoor planters. I cleaned our home with the windows open so the soft spring breeze could blow through.

Although this process of rebirth occurs every year, it still amazes me. I know it's coming, yet throwing off the winter's mantel and embracing the spring always startle and delight me.

So it is hard to imagine what it must be like for my friend Harold, who has never experienced it before. He arrived in the United States from Costa Rica in January and is spending this semester at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. In February, he experienced the first snowfall of his life.

"I will never forget the experience to see the snow the first time. In my country, we see the snow in a lot of movies, but being in the place, feeling the cold weather and having the opportunity to appreciate this wonderful landscape is a great experience. Snow is a kind of soft white rug that covers all the human-made things on the ground and erases any artificial ingredients with a natural magic ..."

He visited our campus last week, and his comments about spring made me appreciate even more something that most of us take for granted.

"After the silence [of winter], it is very easy to get amazed by the natural sound of birds, and start feeling the hot sunlight that melts the cool weather. The weather begins a wonderful metamorphosis, changing the grass to green and painting the trees with color. Spring is to feel the reanimation of the earth and to see how nature begins again ..."

Harold was in Kansas for the first time in October 2010, and he loved that season as well.

"...the most wonderful thing is to see the variety of colors that you can find on the tree leaves and how nice it is to appreciate how these colors start to cover the ground, making an extraordinary landscape..."

One of the benefits of travel is experiencing new things. After his fall trip in 2010, Harold took home something that to us would seem like a curious souvenir - an acorn. While common here, they are unknown in Costa Rica.

I lived in Costa Rica from 1978-1980, and I loved its temperate climate with a year-round temperature of about 72 degrees. Just as the acorn was unfamiliar to Harold, I saw flowers and animals Costa Ricans consider commonplace, but were exotic to me because we don't have them in Kansas.

Yet I missed the summer that turned into fall, then winter, then spring. Now, seeing our changing seasons from someone else's perspective makes me appreciate them even more.

In return for that gift of seeing things through another's eyes, I had an exotic present for Harold when he left Manhattan to return to Lawrence. In 2010, he had taken the acorn home for his son, whose favorite movie was "Ice Age." In that animated movie, an acorn plays a prominent part. Harold's intention was to encase it in resin and give it to his son as a present. But one day while he was away, his son's curiosity led him to take it apart to see what was inside. My exotic gift to Harold last week was something I had saved from an autumn centerpiece - a common acorn.

Harold enjoying some of the things he doesn't have the opportunity to experience at home.

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