T.S. Eliot claimed “April is the cruelest month,” but I think he got it wrong. March is by far the more pitiless span of weeks, caught on the cusp of winter and spring.
March is mostly stick and precious little carrot. It batters you with the last blasts of harsh winter weather, again and again, unreliable to the last day.
March gets your hopes up with hints of the kinder, milder days ahead -- then nips those hopes with yet another spell of bone-chilling cold. One day, you’ll be basking in real warmth in front of a sunny window, and the next day you’ll be kindling a fire in the hearth to ward off the cold.
March is capricious and arbitrary, and often mean. If it’s not the final slap of snow, it’s the grim fury of nor’easters. Never forget that New Jersey’s most epic winter storm, the one that cut new ocean inlets through our barrier beaches in 1962, was the spawn of March.
It’s a roller-coaster ride of hope and weary resignation. March makes you sigh. March makes you tired. It’s the ugliest month, too, sodden and strewn with debris, dreary and brown. March is trashy, with odd bits of garbage emerging from the snowdrifts. It’s unkempt and littered with fallen branches.
High winter at least holds the possibility of fresh snow glistening on every branch, covering the contours of the land in a pristine blanket. It’s a charming fairyland – until you have to shovel it aside. The temperatures might be brutally cold, but the sunny days have a sharp, clean clarity.
March is more often than not cloud-bound and brooding. The flat, gray light of a chilly March day flatters no one and the rawness in the air is unpleasant. The ground squelches underfoot, saturated with rain and snowmelt. The landscape is still barren.
None of this is pretty. Pretty hasn’t happened yet. It’s March.
It’s true that the official start of spring is just three weeks off. There is, however, a big difference between the first day of spring and the first spring day.
It must be coming, though. I’ve seen signs and heard rumors. The pointy noses of bulb sprouts are pushing up in full confidence of better days ahead. And I thought I heard a red-winged blackbird the other day. The end is in sight, surely.
But you can’t trust March. We could have another blizzard any day. Searing cold is on the way from the Arctic, they say. Even the name of this month suggests a long, hard slog.
Think of how spring moves painlessly into summer, and summer yields gracefully to fall. It is only the annual passage from winter to spring that proceeds in fits and jerks, defined by false promises and harsh disappointments.
I suppose something has to come between February and April, so I concede that March is necessary. But I don’t have to like it.