Winter in Storm Lake, let's face it, is an exercise in survival - to put it kindly. If you like 20-below wind chills, 35 mile an hour wind, endless scraping of your windshield with numb fingers, and four months of staring at an endless expanse of ice where a lake used to be, you've come to the right place.
And then comes the first beautiful week in March, and all is forgiven.
The same people who compared Storm Lake unfavorably to a prisoner of war camp a couple of weeks earlier, are praising it as nirvana, waxing poetic over the first patch of open water and first buds on the trees. We tend to forget over a long winter just how beautiful this place can be.
Parents know automatically when spring has arrived. Where yesterday there was puddle of mud on the living room carpet from carelessly dropped snow boots, there is now a puddle of mud on the living room carpet from carelessly dropped skateboards and basketballs.
Winter is hard on us. It turns our skin to alligator hide, and our attitudes become just as calloused. The streets are reduced to potholes by freezing precipitation, and our outlooks on life become just as warn and cratered by the traffic load of short, bleak, frigid days.
In winter, my list of things to do reads like this:
1. Drag self out of bed. 2. Drag self to work. 3. Drag self to grocery store for tasteless frozen pizza. Drag self back home to sleep. 4. Rinse and repeat.
In spring, the list becomes infinitely more interesting: 1. Run. 2. Bike. 3. Beach. 4. Finally finish SCUBA diving certification. 5. Find loophole in work dress code in order to wear shorts and flip-flops without being fired. If fired, decide that isn't such a bad thing, and wear sandals anyway. 6. Shop for mangos, kiwi and coconuts, and wait for the fresh fare of the Farmer's Market. 7. Trade the car for an old Indian motorcycle. Trade the house for an old wooden sailboat. And so on.
On days like these, with the sweet kiss of sunshine on your shoulders and the breath of adventure in a 60-degree afternoon breeze, the little boy or little girl in you come out to play - the one who wants to play hooky to dive headfirst from a rope swing into a lake with no thoughts of responsibilities.
In the winter, one fantasizes of escape. On such a spring day, disappearing from a dull life seems like more the realistic, logical choice.
As I sit in another staff meeting in a stuffy, dim storage room, pretending to write down all of the endless things I'm supposed to be doing, the thought occurs to me: There really needs to be spring break for adults. It needs to be a law.
Vote for me for president, I promise it will be the first thing I do. Also the last, since I will then be missing for the remainder of the term.
Mark Twain called it "variegated vagabonding." The indigenous Australians termed it walkabout. In the military, it's AWOL. In Hawaii (they need getaways in Hawaii?) it is holo-holo. For Russians, it is otpusk. For the Danish, it is vakantie. For Jimmy Buffet fans, its Margaritaville. For writer Karoak, it was On the Road. Every culture and society has the concept of the escape.
Of course, we seldom act on our urges. A new study found that U.S. workers forfeited $52.4 billion in time-off benefits in 2013 and took less vacation time than at any point in the past four decades. Almost 170 million earned vacation days went untaken in 2014, more than a few of them mine. I've become bad-decision-making Rob Lowe. Don't be like me, people.
As Huckleberry Finn says, "Well, I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and civilize me and I can't stand it. I been there before."
We've all been there, all winter long. Enough civilization already.
The good news is, Storm Lake is a pretty good place to not be escaped from. Take a long lunch, leave early, or call in sick if you must. Sink your toes into the sand. Bike along the lakefront. Play the back nine. Take a walk in the woods. Put the top down. Plant something. Whatever spring means to you. Life is too short to spend it inside. For goodness sake, put the damn cell phone down.
And if I don't show up for work tomorrow, just put a message in a bottle, and toss it into the waves off a sunny beach somewhere. That's my idea of a text message and call waiting.