There is no spring in Laos though in balance to the seemingly eternal summer, there is a winter. Get out your woollen hats and gloves. Use earmuffs and mufflers to protect your ears and mouth. When that hard wind blows, it’s time to hunker down and hibernate.
Plants don’t have sweaters so they react in protective ways like dropping their leaves. Evident by their rings, trees have cycles of growth and retrenchment with bursts of creative energy in spring and a hardened bark in winter. It’s natural for their development to leap forward, then freeze into dormancy for a period of time.
Animals have legs or wings so they have the ability to flee the cold. When things get inhospitable, they pack up in search of more fertile grounds. Some animals stick it out by slowing down their metabolism to hibernate. Either way, nature knows when the environment is not conducive for basic functions so they either give it up or cool down the blood.
Us humans in contrast, like to defy nature and find ways to survive under any circumstances, no matter how intolerable. As creatures of habit, we’re also able do deceive ourselves and find comfort in the familiar. Spurts of growth and development don’t happen seasonally so we take for granted the master cycle beginning with the exponential growth as an embryo, the significant change as an adolescent and the slow replacements of cells at a senior age. One spring is not going to change our lives or so we think. Our development does not depend on it.
Cold makes it hard for young people who want to learn, especially for those in the mountains. Fingers will freeze when we try to write and it’s better to keep lips sealed since they’ll chap if we speak. It reminds me of my college year in Connecticut when trying to save money, our student household did without fuel. We typed our papers in our sleeping bags but our fingers still threatened to stick to the keys. We wanted to just wait until spring, but that would not have been possible.
The cold made us fearful, just thinking of an icy shower. I’m sure many people in the countryside can relate to this. Just the thought makes one want to hide. The cold made us immobile and we used more energy to shiver than to take any significant action. It was seasonal procrastination with the wish for our problems to simply disappear, but of course nothing just disappears.
Lao people in general are hardier and more patient. They can wait it out without complaining. If it doesn’t get warmer tomorrow, it will in a few weeks or months. But almost as if warmth is assumed, spring is hardly given a calendar day. As if it happens overnight, it’s suddenly uncomfortably hot as we wonder if spring was just a label or a metaphor. We learn that there is shivering and sweating and nothing in between.
Or maybe a youthful spring is something that keeps the insides of young people warm enough to sit by the light of a lamp and read from a book in prayer for the future. A hope for a non-existent spring can keep one going for yet another day.
It’s cold in mountaintops of Sam Neua, Phongsali and Xieng Khouang. For all of you struggling to keep your candle lit, please stay warm and in good health. Stick to your books and hone your mind. If you persevere, you will see the day in which your efforts will bloom without restraint.