Now that spring has finally arrived in the US Midwest, I’m spending a good amount of time outside – allergies be damned. It’s an incredible time of year. Unlike the autumn, spring is a transitional season replete with possibilities, beginnings, and a sort of contented restlessness that I’ve grown to love. “Nostalgia in reverse, the longing for yet another strange land, grew especially strong in spring,” as Vladimir Nabokov described it. I’ve always waited for spring with sweet anticipation, not least because of the brutal Missouri winters (the mildness of English weather is something that I miss daily). It is also, however, my reliance on being out in nature that makes April one of my favourite months. Where autumn offers an invitation to the cosy isolation that I adore, spring inspires its own reflections on insularity. I trade in blankets, tea, and my favourite reads for time outdoors, albeit always searching for the perfect reading spot. It’s the time of year that, more than any other, reminds me of both the possibilities and almost impossible longevity we touch every time we open a book.
To me, literature and nature are intrinsically connected. Not only are they quite literally tied through the familial relationship of tree and paper, they both represent an eternity separate from anything that we – subject to such brief lifespans – can comprehend. The very real emotional uplift that I experience whenever I step outside is related to the soothing effect of reading for precisely this reason. As with nature, literature reminds us of our own limited perspective. We rely on books to allow us to experience life in other footsteps, centuries, and realities. The expansiveness that reading offers is mirrored by the relatively limitless lifespan of the books themselves. Those that speak to human experience in a way that transcends the specifics of time and place can have a place in learning and entertainment that far exceeds our own time on earth. Now in the digital age, it is likely that our most celebrated classic novels could last until the end of humanity itself. This longevity is something that can be difficult to grasp, but there is a comfort in knowing how profoundly we touch our own history and future every time we open a book. As with taking time to be in nature – around parts of the planet that have witnessed centuries of progress and pain – reading allows us a place in the audience of time. It’s an incredible privilege and one that, come the spring, I am always reminded to celebrate.