From new loves to new babies, March 20 was a busy day for TMN staffers, even as those of us in New York dodged snowflakes. Rosecrans Baldwin, Jonathan Bell, Erik Bryan, Liz Entman, Meave Gallagher, Jessica Francis Kane, Elizabeth Kiem, Todd Levin, Nozlee Samadzadeh, Giles Turnbull, and Andrew Womack fanned out to gather signs spring was on its way.
1 a.m. ET
Nozlee Samadzadeh (12 a.m. in Stillwater, Okla.): Every night at home we watch the Daily Show and The Colbert Report over our late, light dinner. I help clean up and play our traditional bedtime card games (Kings in the Corner and an Iranian game called Pasur) with my grandmother, visiting here from Iran for the Iranian New Year, Nowruz. She wins, like she always does. As I fall asleep, I realize that, unbeknownst to me, my parents have replaced my winter blanket with a lighter sheet.
2 a.m. ET
Jonathan Bell (6:45 a.m. London time): The day’s weather system still hasn’t made itself known, but down on the ground, four-year-old brains are expressing subversive thoughts for the very first time. “I don’t want a little sister. Can we give her to a charity shop?” An hour later, the gray finally begins to disperse, and a soft light blue sky emerges. Outside I can see people are walking to their morning trains. We still don’t have a plan, and the next 10 hours lie empty ahead.
4:25 a.m. ET
Giles Turnbull (8:25 a.m. in Bradford on Avon, England): My son bounces up the hill to school; the shorts-wearing season has started. As we stroll through the gates and into the playground, nearly all his classmates are in their shorts, too. Always eager to get some playing done before school starts, they run into the wooded area at the edge of the playing field. Now the mud has dried up, they’re allowed to create their own flavor of six-year-old havoc there, getting their knees properly grubby and bruised before the school day begins.
Aftewards, a sunny walk into town, to visit the post office and run some errands. Outside her tiny shop, the greengrocer has a box of freshly cut daffodils, 99p per bunch. I pause, tempted. Not to buy, but to take a photo. I hate asking strangers if they mind me taking photos of them or their things. I fear they’ll find out that I’m some kind of weirdo.
6:14 a.m. ET
Rosecrans Baldwin (Chapel Hill, N.C): The right side of the Times’s homepage is taken up with an ad from Lowe’s for the first day of spring. I knew spring began today, but I guess that I didn’t know where. I click on the ad. Seems that spring begins in a suburban lake land where redheads breed, where the foliage is always fall colors, and the children like their slides so much, they die smiling at the top.
7:01 a.m. ET
Elizabeth Kiem (Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn): I am thinking that I’d like to put a bullet in the radio. I am thinking, curse you Satirius Johnson and your chummy promise of snow flurries. Instead I just turn the radio off. When I do, I hear birds singing spring songs. But it’s still disquietingly gray from my vantage point under the covers. By the time I get up, the birds have stopped. It’s snowing.
7:10 a.m. ET
A foot of snow has fallen overnight because Mother Nature knows my children have outgrown their boots.
Jessica Francis Kane (Jane Street, Manhattan): My daughter runs into the bedroom to tell us it’s snowing, then runs out. M. and I study the dim light in the room. Probably just rain, we think. Then we hear our two-year-old son telling his stuffed leopard about the surprising weather. I picture the worst: A foot of snow has fallen overnight because Mother Nature knows my children have outgrown their boots. They don’t even have rain boots that fit. But it turns out just to be flurries. Still, flurries on the first day of spring feel like a bad sign. We leave the house looking exactly the way we did in December, only without the boots and the cheer.
7:15 a.m. ET
Andrew Womack (6:15 a.m. Austin time): There are two seasons in Texas—summer and monsoon—and they are neither predictable nor mutually exclusive. Right now the temperature is 54 and the high is supposed to be 78, which is slightly cooler than yesterday. Spring looks unlikely.
7:15 a.m. ET
Jonathan Bell (11:44 a.m. London time): We’re still inside. It is now beautiful out, but cold, especially in the north-facing garden. But that’s irrelevant, as we’re building camps in the south-facing first-floor bedroom. Sunlight floods the room, causing it to heat up to unseasonal levels, triggering tempers and causing tantrums to flare up in our world of pillow walls and draped blankets.
According to the Persian calendar, spring has sprung. I don’t feel noticeably different. According to an email from an Iranian friend, today is Nowruz, the country’s traditional new year holiday. That timing—11:44 in London—is very particular, unlike the catch-all, day-long vernal equinox.
7:46 a.m. ET
Andrew Womack (6:46 a.m. Austin time): Six minutes ago, on my Facebook feed, a friend announced, “Vernal equinox in 6 minutes!” Here we go!
8:50 a.m. ET
Jessica Francis Kane (Greenwich Village, Manhattan): On the way to drop my son off at nursery school, I stop by the community garden at the corner of Bleecker and La Guardia. I am ridiculously fond of this garden and a pair of Bantam chickens who live there when seasonable. They made their first appearance this year about a week ago and the sound of the rooster’s cock-a-doodle-doo on a city morning is something I need to hear again. I love signs of the country in the city. They’re transporting, as if it were suddenly 100 years ago and you’re on your way to the shirt factory. No sign of the rooster this morning.
8:59 a.m. ET
Elizabeth Kiem (Manhattan bound F train): I’m reading yesterday’s paper on the train. I have been reading old news ever since the Sun went under. The Wall Street Journal is my replacement of choice—but it seems inordinate, or covetous, or just plain eco-retarded to add a second subscription to our household. So my husband brings the day’s news home every night and it waits on the counter for my morning commute. I am rarely aware that I am reading old news. When the headlines are about bailouts and outrage and greed, news has ceased to have an expiration date for me.
9 a.m. ET
Nozlee Samadzadeh (9:38 a.m. in Stillwater, Okla.): I awake to a text from my younger sister, already back at school from spring break, wishing me a happy 1388. I’m glad I was asleep at the actual transition point of 6:44:30 a.m. Oklahoma time—tradition says it’s what you’ll do all year. I can take that. I finally get out of bed and stumble to the family office to check my email and kiss my family members in celebration of the new year. Oops, haven’t brushed my teeth yet.
We all gather around my father’s computer to watch Obama’s Nowruz address on YouTube. My grandmother doesn’t know English enough to understand everything he says, but we translate and at the end she approves of his pronunciation when he wishes us “Nowruz shoma mobarak.”
10:40 a.m. ET
After a stop at the office to turn in my timesheet, I’m at Lowe’s buying stuff for my new garden. Specifically: dirt.
Andrew Womack (9:40 a.m. Austin time): Driving on the highway, past a patch where I’ve seen wildflowers before; however, there are none. It’s getting hotter. Switch on the A/C.
10:54 a.m. ET
Giles Turnbull (2:54 p.m. in Bradford on Avon, England): The broom is out everywhere. And yellow is one of my favorite colors.
11:28 a.m. ET
Erik Bryan (Bushwick, Brooklyn): Just woke up. I took the day off of work because I have a friend visiting from New Orleans this weekend and I’m going to show her around New York. It looks gray outside.
11:35 a.m. ET
Meave Gallagher (8:35 a.m. San Francisco time): Awake to blinding light coming through Venetian blinds—the devil’s window covering—and the sound of roughly 10,000 birds. Surprising, because the bedrooms in this apartment have been little caves all winter. All right, Daylight Savings, this’ll work.
11:55 a.m. ET
Jessica Francis Kane (Bobst Library, NYU): I leave the book I’m supposed to be editing, browse the New York Times website, and read news of Michelle Obama’s vegetable garden. The article says it is the first one at the White House since Eleanor Roosevelt planted a victory garden during WWII. I know a bit about victory gardens (having researched them for the book I’m supposed to be editing) but the main thing that strikes me about the event is this: Why is it the public school kids being put to work? Why not bring in a private school class, perhaps from the first daughters’ very own Sidwell Friends? I think the Obamas missed a chance here. If the point is to raise awareness about the nutrition and eating habits of all our children, why not bring in a class from Bancroft and a class from Sidwell? Why imply that the less fortunate are the ones who most need to establish new habits? I switch back to my document.
11:57 a.m. ET
Liz Entman (10:57 a.m. Nashville time): My weekend has begun. The sun has come out; it’s 60 degrees now, and after a stop at the office to turn in my timesheet, I’m at Lowe’s buying stuff for my new garden. Specifically: dirt. The dirt where I want to plant my vegetables is bad dirt, apparently, and I need good dirt. I’m skeptical, but I see a group of landscapers loading up a pallet with the stuff, so I feel better.
12 p.m. ET
Todd Levin (10:45 a.m. in Moab, Utah): Packing the car again. This is a ritual Lisa and I have practiced every day for the last six, unpacking and re-packing our belongings at roadside motels between New York and here. It is the inevitable inconvenience of keeping all of your stuff in a hatchback. All windows, it provides a 360-degree view of your belongings for any desperate types. We must have murdered a lot of flying bugs on our drive here through the Utah desert last night. The face of our car has accumulated a five o’clock shadow of bug guts.
12:46 p.m. ET
Full of espresso beans and cactus sweetener, we will climb some 150 million-year-old rocks.
Nozlee Samadzadeh (11:46 a.m. in Stillwater, Okla.): On the first day of the new year, one is supposed to go out to visit friends and family. My family’s all in my house, but my friends are all over the world—I send a Happy New Year email to a couple dozen of them wishing everyone a happy spring. My friend Matt emails back, “But are we going to party like it’s 1399?”
1:02 p.m. ET
Todd Levin (11:13 a.m. in Utah): Having coffee at The Love Muffin on Main Street, before we head to Arches National Park. This is the kind of town that serves agave nectar instead of sugar, as a matter of course. That, and the ubiquity of Kokopelli-themed artwork speak volumes for the tenor of this hippie town. It is a beautiful day—a high of 80 today, says my iPhone—and soon, full of espresso beans and cactus sweetener, we will climb some 150 million-year-old rocks.
1:30 p.m. ET
Meave Gallager (10:30 a.m. San Francisco time): The cherry blossoms, which appeared a good three weeks ago, are somehow still on the trees. We have seasons here; it’s just that they blend together so well it’s difficult to delineate one from the next.
1:35 p.m. ET
Elizabeth Kiem (at United Nations headquarters): The Foreign Minister of Somalia is standing outside the Security Council chamber telling reporters that things are so much better in Somalia because “people have had enough of war.” There is a government working inside the country now for a whole month … and at least the fighting is no longer between political factions. Another good sign: The opposition has been reduced to roadside bombs, where they once engaged in frontal attacks. This is all good news, he says eagerly, signs of momentum. “The rule of law can be established in Somalia,” he says. Sounds like spring.
2:05 p.m. ET
Lunch at a Japanese restaurant. There are spring rolls on the menu.
Giles Turnbull (6:05 p.m. in Bradford on Avon, England): A brief visit to some friends nearby turns into two hours of delight as the grown-ups nibble pistachios and glug gin and tonic, and the six-year-olds defeat the Trade Federation droids in the next room. Finally, the evenings are light enough or long enough to feel like they’re an extra part of the day. An extra chunk of time, ideal for spending with friends. All too soon, though, the gin glasses are emptied and it’s way past bedtime for our Jedi heroes. We retreat, light sabers sheathed, through the suddenly chilly evening. Back to our ship, then home via hyperspace.
2:17 p.m. ET
Nozlee Samadzadeh (1:17 p.m. in Stillwater, Okla.): My friend Claire Gchats me with “IMPORTANT.” I sit in trepidation until “Claire is typing…” is replaced by “In order to grieve Natasha Richardson’s untimely death we must drink wine (or mimosas, depending on the time of day) and watch The Parent Trap.” I’ve never been more excited for spring break to be over.
2:19 p.m. ET
Erik Bryan (SoHo): Every store is advertising a spring sale of some kind. All of the dress shops we look through have brightly colored and/or floral patterns. My friend asks, “Why is ‘hippie’ coming back?” I shrug.
2:30 p.m. ET
Jessica Francis Kane (Washington Square Park, Manhattan): After a late lunch I stop to watch a film crew at work on the east side of Washington Square Park. The extras are dressed for December, which is probably when the movie is set, but makes them blend into the crowd today. We wait and wait. “You’re stepping on flowers,” someone says, and feet shuffle, but it is too late, the bright green tips of many daffodils and tulips in the park have been crushed. Someone, somewhere decides a small tree in a cement planter is in the way and so it is unceremoniously bungee-corded into submission, its trunk painfully wrenched. Soon it is apparent that the scene is being shot indoors and all we are going to see is the extras, dressed just like us, walking back and forth in front of the window of a building, now no longer partially obscured by the little potted tree. The extra coordinator says, “Enjoy the weather,” implying that movies, like Mother Nature, are inscrutable.
2:37 p.m. ET
Nearly every kid I pass has a popsicle, something I haven’t seen since that weeklong heat wave in early February.
Rosecrans Baldwin (Chapel Hill, N.C): Every day I get sleepy around three and caffeine doesn’t make a difference. I’m trudging through some manuscript edits when the phone rings. It’s a commercial producer in France calling about an advertising gig in Los Angeles, at least I think that’s what she says. Quoi? This is the first time I’ve conducted a business conversation in French since moving back to the States recently, and this one’s about contracts. I try to sound tough, though when we hang up I’m wondering if I just agreed to purchase the plane tickets myself. Dammit!
2:45 p.m. ET
Jonathan Bell (6:45 p.m. London time): The children are asleep already, exhausted by fresh air and equinoxes. The rest of the afternoon evaporated in a blur of nascent recriminations and burgeoning quarrelling skills. I am aware of the very last of the clear blue sky slowly darkening to night, by which time I’m finished with pining for open fields and pliant offspring and looking forward to going to bed.
2:53 p.m. ET
Andrew Womack (1:53 p.m. Austin time): Lunch at a Japanese restaurant. There are spring rolls on the menu.
This morning, we noticed our cat was chasing off another cat from the backyard. Back at work, my wife is IMing me to tell me the other cat keeps returning, and that our cat is now rolling around in the dirt. According to Google, this means either she is trying to stimulate pheromones to attract a mate or is in some sort of post-coital frenzy.
3:05 p.m. ET
Jessica Francis Kane (Bleecker Street, Manhattan): The fancy florist, Ovando, has an interesting spring window display: Loose potting soil shoveled into a huge pile, daffodils and crocuses blooming in it. I was a fan when it was described to me, but now that I’ve seen it for myself I’ve changed my mind. In front of the pile of dirt is a selection of cylindrical planters with six purple muscari for $65. There are also cylindrical planters with three daffodils for $45 and cube planters with crocuses (3-6) for $30. There’s no question these objects are beautiful, but they depress me. It is the opposite of the rooster in the community garden and I would like him to come here and scratch his way through it all.
3:17 p.m. ET
Nozlee Samadzadeh (2:18 p.m. in Stillwater, Okla.): We head to a local park for a picnic lunch. Instead of the traditional meal of sabzi polo mahi (rice cooked with herbs like cilantro and fenugreek, served with saffron-marinated fish), we indulge my grandmother’s love of American fast food with Big Macs. After a bit of pre-prandial exercise on the playground swings (my grandmother pushes me), we eat and remember exactly why we don’t go to McDonald’s very often. Post-transfat, I retreat to a patch of the tiny purple flowers that grow everywhere in Oklahoma in spring—each blossom holds a tiny drop of nectar. My friend Jarrett calls to wish me happy new year. Two weeks’ separation yields the following news: He’s finally getting a haircut, someone hacked into his Gmail account, and Hawaii is as beautiful in spring as in winter. I decide that I prefer the misery of winter if it means I get to eat purple-flower nectar.
3:43 p.m. ET
Todd Levin (1:43 p.m. in Utah): We’ve seen many tiny lizards skittering across the rocks, too fast to photograph, but just a minute ago I spotted a good, fat one sunning himself atop one of the cairns used to mark trails. He can’t be bothered to flee, even as we get in close with telescoping camera lenses. Yesterday, I saw a family of bighorn sheep grazing just inches from the shoulder-less highway in Colorado. In this marriage I am the best at spotting animals. Lisa is the best at most everything else.
4 p.m. ET
Rosecrans Baldwin (Chapel Hill, N.C): Four of us play doubles at a local park. Beautiful sunny warm weather. All anyone can talk about is basketball.
4:45 p.m. ET
Meave Gallagher (1:45 p.m. San Francisco time): It feels hotter, and the two ice cream carts posted in front of the elementary school confirm it. Nearly every kid I pass has a popsicle, something I haven’t seen since that weeklong heat wave in early February. “Spring” indeed.
5:10 p.m. ET
Elizabeth Kiem (Bryant Park, Staples): I’m in an asshole hurry. The kind of hurry that makes me sigh audibly when the manager at Staples tells me to cross the warehouse-size merchandise floor to an open cash register that will take me now but when I get there the guy takes three minutes to open his register. I’m in an asshole hurry so I tell him I’m going to go back over there and he looks at me like the asshole I am and says it will just be a second.
The subway is half a block away and even before I get to the Metrocard machine I’m ready to kick it for not being able to read my credit card. I’m in that much of an asshole hurry. An Elvis impersonator walks past me. He’s only half dressed. His jet black pompadour and gold sunglases are good. His Sun Sessions T-shirt is helpful. But his saggy Lee Dad-jeans and sneakers are a testament to the fact that he’s not in any hurry.
5:12 p.m. ET
Todd Levin (3:12 p.m. in Utah): After circling back nine miles to the Visitors Center because we were woefully unprepared with regards to hydration, we are ready to hike to the Delicate Arch, one of the finer natural landmarks at this park, and in this country. (We have a 2001 USA Road Atlas, and Delicate Arch is its cover girl. Jealous much, Niagara Falls?) Lisa has been to Arches once before and really wanted to hike to the D.A., but was traveling with weaklings (i.e. middle-aged German tourists) who preferred the convenience of drive-up lookout points over a three-mile hike. I am not a weakling, though. I’m strong, like ox. We’re going to hike the shit out of this thing.
5:30 p.m. ET
Jessica Francis Kane (Jane Street, Manhattan): My friend in Virginia calls to tell me her baby is born! The best kind of springtime news.
5:35 p.m. ET
We pass by the local vocational technology school. They’ve also put up signs advertising “Blogging for Seniors.”
Erik Bryan (Lower Manhattan): We’re worn out from shopping. Due to the impending dusk, we decide against making the trek up to Central Park. We instead redirect our path toward a Dunkin Donuts on the way home. Walking along 14th Street I notice that all the trees are still bare. It still looks and feels like winter here, save for the lone man we pass audaciously wearing shorts.
5:36 p.m. ET
Todd Levin (3:36 p.m. in Utah): I am weak. So weak! This is utterly humiliating. Within fewer than 500 yards of our uphill hike, I am winded and dizzy. I swear, this has never happened to me before.
Lisa, surprisingly, is even worse off. Her face has gone all red, and she’s twice requested some time to sit down and “have a heart attack.” Maybe it’s the change in elevation. Maybe it’s the fact that all we’ve eaten today was a cranberry bran (love) muffin, split two ways, and a banana. Or maybe it’s the fact that for the last few weeks we’ve eaten road food, car candy, almonds, and a stomach-softening series of decadent goodbye meals and drinks with our New York friends. But seriously, this is embarrassing. Now I know how the arch feels. I am delicate as all get-out.
5:45 p.m. ET
Erik Bryan (14th Street) While in the Dunkin Donuts, I receive a phone call from my stepfather, who is in London, letting me know that my sister has just given birth to her second child, Alexander Christensen, nine pounds, six ounces. My mother calls later to inform me that, while the baby is in stable condition now, at two minutes after birth he rated a two on the Apgar scale. Luckily, by the five-minute mark, he was up to a 9.6 and maintaining. My sister is also in good condition, I’m told, and will be leaving the hospital with my new nephew tomorrow.
6:56 p.m. ET
Todd Levin (4:56 p.m. in Utah): WE ARE STRONG AS BULLS. AS TRUCKS. AS MOONSHINE. In your face, nature!
6:57 p.m. ET
Meave Gallagher (4 p.m. San Francisco time): Hey, strawberries on the corner! I guess this is a hot spot—a month ago a different guy was selling bags of oranges here. This dude’s strawberries are the first I’ve seen this year, and they are looking robust.
7:20 p.m. ET
Elizabeth Kiem (Court Street and Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn): Waiting for the light to change I realize that the man standing next to me has said something loud and I turn and he meets my eyes and repeats what he had said: “Twenty years!” There is a woman with him and they are both older than sixty and enjoying themselves. “I haven’t kissed a girl in twenty years,” he tells me. His teeth are very straight and healthy. They are stained yellow—all but a single porcelain-bright incisor. We cross the street together, bantering about his time in the monastery and the dirty confessions he heard. I don’t have any notion what brought up the topic, and one block later I have outpaced the laughing couple so I no longer need make jokes about a stranger’s history. As they fall beyond my periphery I notice the old man’s shoes are also very white. And I believe the woman is holding his arm, still laughing. “It’s a very long time,” he says again.
7:54 p.m. ET
Nozlee Samadzadeh (6:54 p.m. in Stillwater, Okla.): My mother, my grandmother, and I head to the university track for a run. I puff through my three measly miles; they walk. Driving there, we pass by the local vocational technology school: I swear that ambitiously floral landscaping wasn’t there yesterday. They’ve also put up signs advertising lessons in the equally ambitious “Blogging for Seniors.”
8 p.m. ET
After some inspection, I see all of the waitresses, regardless of their body type, have huge butts. Is this some kind of theme restaurant?
Meave Gallagher (5 p.m. San Francisco time): The produce from our CSA is still wintery vegetables, almost nothing new but greens. This makes Nibbler the bunny happy, but I am looking forward to the asparagus promised in the next box. When I lived in Germany, my home city went crazy in spring when the asparagus crop came. The soil was very sandy and prime for growing it. Tip: Use a grill pan to cook your asparagus, with just salt, pepper, and lemon juice to dress it. Give the stalks a light char, and eat immediately.
9 p.m. ET
Andrew Womack (8 p.m. Austin time): I am grilling. Spring IS here.
10 p.m. ET
Nozlee Samadzadeh (10 p.m. in Stillwater, Okla.): I leave for school tomorrow, so I get to pick what we have for dinner. I make my family eat my favorite springtime vegetable ever, asparagus, for the second night in a row. I re-make last night’s butter-sauted spears, and add a spring soup made from a Times Bitten recipe. As he sits down to eat, my dad looks as if he wishes it were still winter.
11:06 p.m. ET
Rosecrans Baldwin (Chapel Hill, N.C): Everyone was talking about going home, but now everyone’s talking about another round, seeing how all the basketball games are going into overtime. I don’t know the last time I went to a bar that didn’t have a flat-screen television somewhere. My wife’s cousin tells me he was in a small bookstore recently, they had a screen mounted on the wall showing a book. No motion, no animation, just a picture of a book. “At least they could’ve given it a title,” he says. “That’s just bad business.”
11:29 p.m. ET
Todd Levin (9:29 p.m. in Utah): I was craving a burger—a just reward for kicking nature in its stupid face—so, after cleaning up, we ended up at a dicey brewpub on the southern edge of town. It’s incredibly crowded, like every restaurant in town tonight on account of Moab hosting a half-marathon in the morning. I get my first bad feeling about this place when we’re handed one of those oversized pagers that buzzes and lights up when your table is ready. I get my second bad feeling when I notice the menu contains no fewer than six registration marks—not exactly the hallmark of hand-crafted food. Ten minutes later, it turns out that our waitress has a huge butt. It’s crazy. She’s small, but her butt is so huge. After some inspection, I see all of the waitresses, regardless of their body type, have huge butts. Is this some kind of theme restaurant?
11:42 p.m. ET
Liz Entman. (10:42 p.m. Nashville time): With Battlestar over and the temperature dropping below freezing tonight—will one night’s frost kill these pachysandra I just planted today?—I make a cup of tea with a healthy slug of whiskey and honey. I’m going to bed soon—we are getting a new lawn mower tomorrow, and a weeping willow to plant in the wet spot at the back of the yard, and there’s land to clear for the garden. Jeff will help his parents with their taxes, and then we will tell them of our plans to marry. Assuming anyone is still standing after that, we’ll go out for lunch.
11:50 p.m. ET
Rosecrans Baldwin (Chapel Hill, N.C): The car heater’s very slow to start and outside it’s 40 degrees. Stupid cold, stupid car heater. The roads are empty. We sing along to Al Green. Car heater kicks in about a minute away from home. I wish summer would hurry up and get here.
12:13 a.m. ET
Nozlee Samadzadeh (11:13 p.m. in Stillwater, Okla.): I check in for my flight online and then leave the internet for a nightcap game of cards with my grandmother. For once I win, repeatedly. I’m leaving the house for the airport in a little over four hours. An hour later, we go to bed. My single sheet feels light, but it also feels right. Spring has sprung.