Peterson: Jackets and robins herald spring's arrival

Meteorological spring arrived on March 1. 

Woodstock Willie forecasted six more weeks of winter on Groundhog Day on Feb. 2, which would have put the first day of spring two weeks into March.

And the first day of spring – the vernal equinox – arrived on March 20.

But spring truly arrived on Sunday when I finally shed my winter coat in favor of a light jacket. I’d been wearing that heavy coat since the snow started falling in November. Most of the winter it was accompanied by my scarf to keep the cold wind from blowing down my chest.

Last winter was warmer, and I wore my jacket well into December, and I wasn’t complaining. But I had to haul out the winter wear in November, and I wore it all of December, January, February and March.

I don’t mind my winter coat. It’s warm, and the zipper doesn’t snag. My last coat had a zipper problem, even after I had the zipper replaced. It would catch on the fabric and get stuck. The final weeks I wore the coat, the snag wouldn’t come undone so I had to put the coat on over my head like a sweatshirt. It was embarrassing.

But I still liked the coat because it had a warm hood, and the fabric was a soft velour that did not make a sound when I walked and moved my arms back and forth. My new coat – as good as the zipper is – has an inferior hood that breaks the wind but doesn’t warm my head when I am pumping gas, and it is made of nylon and provides the swish, swish, swish sound effects when I move my arms.

But the zipper works without fail; not enough can be said about that.

And it is warm.

We had scattered warm days in March when the temperatures reached the 50s, but I kept wearing my winter coat because the temperatures would dip into the teens, 20s and 30s. And even though I live only a couple of miles from work, I did not want to be stranded alongside the road with a broken-down car in below freezing temperatures. We live a mile from church, and I didn’t want to be caught without my coat on the few nicer Sundays we had.

Because I’ve read about people freezing to death because they were underdressed and left their cars to find help. Never mind that I have a cellphone, and I have programmed into my cellphone under T for towing the telephone numbers of towing companies from all of the major towns in McHenry County.

All I would have to do is wait. But what if I ran out of gas? What if the engine just stopped working? What about fearing the worst? What if I did something stupid like walk back into town in the middle of bone-numbing winter?

If I did that, at least I’d be in my winter coat, even if the temperature temporarily reached the 50s. It was sure to plunge as the sun set, and I wasn’t about to take any chances.

But on Sunday, the sun was shining and the thermometer was pushing toward 50 degrees, and it was supposed to climb to the mid-50s by afternoon, so I grabbed my light jacket instead of my winter coat as we got ready to leave for church.

I was throwing caution to the wind, which wasn’t blowing much at all.

And it felt good to have a light jacket on instead of being wrapped like a mummy in my winter coat.

Spring had indeed arrived, even if I didn’t see any robins that day.

And my good wife and I even went for a walk in the afternoon. While the temperature was 56, I still wasn’t convinced it was warm enough to walk wearing just the jacket. So I put on a sweatshirt and wore my jacket for the walk.

Halfway through the walk, I didn’t want to come down with the chills. But that was hardly the case. In fact, I started getting too warm and unzipped my jacket to stay cool. Walking is good exercise, and your body generates heat to burn calories, making you feel warm.

I went to Chicago on Thursday for an appointment in Hyde Park, and that meant an hour of bus time – a lot of it spent standing at bus stops just waiting – and I wore my light jacket because the temperature was pushing 60. I can’t tell you how freeing that was, not having to be encased in my winter coat and stomping my feet at the bus stop trying to stay warm.

Kind reader Fran Hicks wrote recently to tell me that when she was a young girl she was told that if you counted 100 robins, you could make a wish and it would come true. I’m only up to 11, and my wish already has come true: Warm days wearing a spring jacket. Even if spring didn’t arrive until April 6.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate. He is a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at

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