Catch the Fever

Finding method in spring madness

Spring in Cambridge is a strange time. For all the familiar clichés of the season as a time of miraculous regeneration—cue soft-focus images of fluffy bunnies and blooming bouquets—these delightfully wholesome tableaux seem conspicuously absent from the local environment. The stripped-bare foliage continues to bear more than a passing resemblance to the set of the Blair Witch Project (preponderance of red brick aside); deluded optimists who insist on wearing flip-flops outside end up with toes a distinctive shade of magenta by sunset; and carb-loaded comfort foods still retain that elusive yet maddening X-factor which renders piping hot pad thai an easy choice over macrobiotic vegetables any day.

There’s no two ways about it: this is a difficult place to truly feel the coming of spring, the “thousand blended notes” that Wordsworth felt sure he could hear one no doubt pleasant and sunny morning in (admittedly only slightly) warmer climes. But there’s another factor, too, which makes capris and ice cream season seem even farther away. And that’s the fact that in any community saturated in the very particular and somewhat contrary demands of the academic calendar, warmer weather means winding down. In other words, it’s time for wrapping things up even as we’re still wrapped in layers of winter accoutrements. Even the most dedicated, head-in-the-clouds Romantic poet would be hard-pressed to discern a Wordsworthian recital of a thousand blended notes in a still very frigid Cambridge, but amidst the rising pressure levels it can sometimes seem like there are at least a thousand (if not more) term papers, response papers and problem sets to be conquered with the slow dying of the semester.

Making things even more difficult is the sense of looming farewells which also stands at odds to chocolate-box conceptions of a sickly-sweet springtime. Witness the hordes of people teeming through the streets any weekend night in late April and May, emerging suddenly from a long hibernation in their overheated cocoon-like dorm rooms to make last-ditch contact with friends who will disperse all over the globe for the summer break. It’s not just the weather bringing us out of the insulation and into the sun; it’s the sense that this is all nearly over, and months devoid of the curious comforts of college-time scheduling lie ahead. This need to make contact before departure is all the more acute on consideration of how the college year actually finishes. It does not grind to a sudden and well-defined halt, but instead peters out, as variable exam schedules drain dorms in a gradual trickle. It’s a case of now you see it, now you don’t, completely different from the coordinated communal closure of the high school year and endowing the rites of spring time socializing with an added sense of urgency.

It’s little wonder, then, that spring fever has become a very real phenomenon on campus, one which belies the residual chill in the April air. Much more than just a convenient way of explaining away lapses in concentration, this dizzying feeling of ferment and change seems a very real and very obvious response to what is a most disorientating time of year.

Consider that implicit unease at whether those plans hatched for summer are really going to be the right idea, a nagging suspicion that begins to creep in as the days fly by and June becomes less of an abstract concept and more something which happens the week after next. That intensely annoying question of “what are you doing this summer?” becomes the catchall currency in social interactions, as widespread as the holy trilogy of name, hometown and SAT score were during the heady days of Freshman Week. When everyone’s talking about their high-powered internships at one of those generic WASPy sounding consulting firms, it can be tough to hold onto that dream of a summer governed by the vague yet alluring concept of “relaxation.” Suddenly the beauty of no plans at all becomes a terrifying burden, a gaping hole on the resume which can never be filled and which will surely spell the end of any hopes for high-powered fast-track Manhattan jobs come graduation.


And then finals appear on the horizon, making spring a time not for regeneration but rather regurgitation, as classes in which the lectures have long ceased to be an integral part of weekly schedules come back for the haunting. The most disheartening part of this cycle must surely be the gradual deterioration of carefully-chosen notebooks (I can’t be the only one who insists on color-coordinating in some oblique yet ingenious way to match the subject matter of the class) now a shadow of their former shiny selves, not even fit to serve as breakfast for a particuarly voracious dog. Syllabi which once augured mastery of entirely new realms of knowledge now seem nothing but silent yet brutally-insistent task masters, as the prospect of covering an entire semester’s worth of dense readings looms ahead even as promising topics for research papers must be formulated.

It all makes for an explosive mix, and the unpredictable weather probably doesn’t help matters. Circumstances are stacked against us and there’s not much to be done to stop the rapid rate of change. When it comes to spring fever, maybe you’ve just got to play it out and let it burn, baby, burn.

Amelia E. Lester ’05 is an English concentrator in Adams House. Her column appears on alternate Tuesdays.