I have a vision that when Persephone emerges from the underworld, flowers spring up in her footsteps. Delicate hyacinths and daffodils and nodding narcissus, tulips and irises. Spring flowers, bulbs, the things that grow deep underground in the darkness and cold and then force their way to the surface when the weather starts to turn and the days grow longer, until the balance point, the equinox, is reached. They bob in her wake and release their soft, quiet scents and perfume the air while the sun reaches long fingers of light over the horizon, striping the sky with colour before it finally consents to burst into full flame above the earth, bathing the flowers in light.
The equinox is like being at the bottom of a steep slide on a roller coaster. Your heart is still in your throat and you’re wondering if you really want to keep going and suddenly your car is climbing up, up, up and you are bursting along the rails to the high point, looking out over the land around you. By the time you get there, Persephone’s flowers will have died back and the withered traces of their foliage will be all that is left. The landscape will be starting to turn brown and dry from the sun that leads into summer, and you will be looking down a precipice and into the next trough of the roller coaster.
But while you are going up, your palms are tingling with anticipation and excitement as the landscape sweeps past you. People are screaming with delight and a sort of controlled terror, wondering why they agreed to get on board the roller coaster in the first place. Someone is snapping a photo that they will try to sell you when you finally get off, a memento of the time you went all the way to the top and lived to tell the tale.
I won’t lie; spring has never really been my favourite season. I like late winter, when the days are lengthening and things are turning green and everything is just starting to pop out, because here, things burst into leaf and bloom before the equinox comes. I like the heavy rains of winter and the heavy drippingness, and while there may be a few more storms after today, they will become less intense, and soon we will be facing the dryness of summer, when you need to be careful about conserving water and you watch things slowly die back. I like fall, warm easy days and lingering scents drifting across the yard. But not spring, really.
I am glad, though, that the days are longer, for one of the first times in my life. This winter felt colder and darker than usual; well, it was definitely colder because we had a cold, dry January that was unusual for us. The days, though, weren’t any shorter than they traditionally are, it just felt like it. I have woken well before dawn for most of the past months and sometimes it felt like the sun dashed by in the sky, just for a minute, before sinking below the horizon and leaving us in darkness again. So I confess, I am happy that today is the middle point and the days will get longer and longer ahead of us.
Persephone is saddled with a lot of responsibility. I wonder if sometimes, like the rest of us, she wishes she could stay in bed. She could burrow under the warmth of the covers and read a book, and not get up, not go outside. Surely there must be years when Persephone thinks about just giving up on it all, staying in the underworld. It may be dark, but at least it is familiar, and it doesn’t require the immense commitment of moving, doing something, taking an action.
She knows that she will have to return to the underworld at the end of the harvest, after all, which creates a certain sense of futility. Why rise from the underworld at all when you’re going to be forced back in within six months? Why not just stay there, instead of giving yourself a taste of the freedom above ground? Why let the bulbs bloom when they will just die back and then they will be frozen, hard and cold, in the fierce darkness of the ground, assuming they are not eaten by underground marauders that want to steal their stored energy and use it for their own purposes?
The reasons why Persephone bothers are unclear. We could say that physics compels her; spring comes whether she is here or not because of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun and the degree of axial tilt. The equinox is not a Mystery, and the bulbs don’t need Persephone’s footsteps to break ground so they can force their way through and burst into bloom. They themselves are not Mysteries either, just living organisms struggling to survive, using their bright colours and scents to attract pollinators so they can breed the next generation, fulfill the impulse to perpetuate the species.
But there is a reason we think of them as Mysteries and watch the changes of the seasons with something like reverence, even when we understand the science behind them and why they happen. There is a reason why, when I am lying in the bed in the morning wondering if I should bother, I eventually swing one leg out and then the other, I shuffle around to find pajamas, I put on socks, I look outside the window to see what sort of day it is going to be. These Mysteries reveal more about ourselves than their subjects; it is not Persephone I am watching for this spring, today, when the day and night are of equal length, but myself.