The Right of Spring

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Time to smell the roses.

“Happy Freedom Day!” a friend in the south of Spain writes this morning. She sends pictures of a beach at sunrise.

Although my day didn’t begin quite so early, I was lacing up my hiking boots before nine. As I reached the top of the hill just past Miguel and Débora’s house, panting a little (okay, a lot), I reached the furthest point I’d been in 48 days.

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Early-morning surfers in Cádiz. Thank you, Stephanie.

Today is the day adults in Spain can head for the hills if they’re in the mood, as long as it’s between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. or 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. and within a one-kilometre radius. If you’re over 70, other time slots apply.

While admiring the rows of grapevines leading down into the port of Beluso, I suddenly felt grateful I’d been stuck in one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns for 48 days. It was May now and March felt like another world. A world where the foxglove had not yet bloomed and the potatoes I’d watched an elderly couple plant still lay buried in neat drills.

A world where I’d been sending emails to my ex-husband that took hours to compose. How to express an all-consuming rage in 700 words or less? How to strike the perfect balance between I hate you and your new girlfriend and you were my family and I will always love you?

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When you live down the hill from a castle.

But March felt far away now. Now the hills of Galicia were alive with the sound of spring water running, birds chirping, hens clucking, dogs barking. Every crevice bloomed green. Flowers belonging in hothouses grew wild: birds of paradise, calla lilies, jasmine.

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Yes, these beauties grow wild around here.

While this isn’t the first time I’ve emerged so wide-eyed from a period of deprivation – 10-day silent retreats at meditation centres, tree planting in the “bush” of Canada’s west coast, living in an off-the-grid cabin 16 kilometres from town with no vehicle – these were self-imposed deprivations involving groups of other like-minded people.

To know you’re emerging into the world at the same time as millions of strangers, a communal awakening to a spring in full bloom, is something else altogether.

Unlike the cities of Barcelona and Madrid and Cádiz, alive with cyclists and joggers and surfers from the crack of dawn, I only passed a handful of people during my allotted hour in Bueu. All of them, in accordance with what seems to be a Spanish rule to always dress for the occasion, sporting what appeared to be brand-new exercise gear.

But what my walk lacked in quantity it made up for in quality. A look passed between me and my freedom-day comrades  – a look of recognition. We’d done it. We’d survived something together.

No, it wasn’t a war, or crushing poverty, or any of the other horrors of this world, but it was something. Something to celebrate if only just between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. or 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. in our one-kilometre radius. Within this space, the world was our oyster again.

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I sure hope all this walking won’t affect my eating schedule, says Stanley.