Here Comes the Sun

The cherry blossoms might be the most recognizable symbol of spring in Washington, but for Courtney Kolb and her Wheaten Terrier Jeffrey, being a member of Cemetery Dogs is the proper way to celebrate the weather. 

The 25-year-old media coordinator for the House Republican Conference and her fiance recently became dues-paying members of the dog-walking group at Congressional Cemetery in Southeast Washington.

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“We just took our dog there for the first time, and it was so much fun,” Kolb said. “We’ve explored way more of the town since we’ve had him, and we’ve just spent a lot of time walking around with him. It’s great.”

Now that spring is official in Washington and Congress has let out for its two-week Easter recess, staffers like Kolb are clamoring to get outdoors, fire up their barbecues and soak in the sun. And Kolb should know a thing or two about appreciating the warmer weather — her family moved to Minnesota when she was 13.

For staffers who bore the cold growing up, the start of spring has always been worth celebrating. Jim Gordon, a senior policy adviser for Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), said Marathon Monday in Boston always unofficially marked the beginning of spring for him.

It’s a Beantown tradition held the third Monday of April in conjunction with Patriots’ Day (which commemorates the battles of Lexington and Concord and the beginning of the Revolutionary War). The Boston Marathon takes place that day, and the Red Sox usually play a home game, Gordon said.

“If you had a nice day for that, it was kind of like the beginning of spring,” he said. “I would get together with friends, and we could go to the Red Sox game, go catch the marathon and essentially be out and about in the nice weather until 6 or 7 at night.”

Gordon was born and raised in Norwood, Mass., but moved to Alexandria in November 2008. This will be only his second year missing Marathon Monday, which falls on April 19.

“It was an opportunity to put on a pair of shorts, cheer all the runners on, grab a beer and socialize with people out in Boston,” Gordon said.

As for Kolb, she said Easter was typically the signal to her that spring had arrived since it symbolized the first time she would put on a bright color — regardless of the temperature outside.

“My mom would buy us our matching dresses and hats for church,” Kolb said. “When we got to Minnesota, we looked outside and it was, like, 35 degrees.”

Jed Link, a 31-year-old communications director for a Republican member, grew up in Missoula, Mont., where the average January temperature is 23.5 degrees. He said he remembers seeing a break in the cold weather right around Groundhog Day, when people would start wearing shorts almost in rebellion.

“What I remember most vividly as marking the end of winter was the last ski day — then it’s time to break out the camping gear,” Link said. “Or when you first see the grass again or the birds migrating back.”

Link started the Capitol Hill Tubing Society two years ago. In the spring and summer months, he and his wife regularly head out for some whitewater tubing and socializing with friends. In defiance of this winter’s monumental snowstorm, dubbed Snowmageddon, the Capitol Hill Tubing Society decided to convene off-season for some food, drink and sport.

“We had a barbecue that lasted for about three-quarters of the burgers we had to make, until it turns out that propane freezes,” Link said.

And yes, they went tubing, too. Or rather, they blew up their tubes, put on their bathing suits and took it all outside, surrounded by nothing but snow.

“The winter is what you make of it, and it wouldn’t make sense to me to just ride off and hibernate,” Link said. “There’s too much to do, too many activities. We had a great time this winter.”

One Senate aide said he acclimated to cold and dark winters when growing up in Wisconsin.

“The joke was always that there are four seasons: June, July, August and winter,” he said. “But the end of winter just meant it was fishing season.”

Link agreed that due to both Montana’s altitude and its latitude, winters would be colder and would last for a longer period of time.

“But we don’t mourn winter because if we did, we’d be depressed all the time,” he said.

Link and his tubing friends had the right idea by getting outside this winter during the Snowmageddon.

Marsha Lucas, a Dupont Circle-based neuropsychologist, said seasonal affective disorder is based on the amount of exposure to sunlight people receive and stressed the importance of socializing.

“It’s about being outside, but also being with other people can help your mood and behavior and affect how you feel,” Lucas said. “Having a sense of community and having that way of stimulating and energizing yourself is important.”

Kolb learned how to keep the weather from affecting her spirits while growing up in Minnesota. She said she thinks the idea of “Minnesota Nice” comes from people’s need for a sense of community in extreme cold and dark locales.

“It’s kind of bizarre; people there are just chipper all the time,” Kolb said. “In the winter they’ll have bonfires when it’s negative 45 degrees. Everyone has a bonfire pit in their backyard.”

Lucas said this camaraderie in the cold is almost instinctual, since during periods of human evolution, people in extremely cold climates who didn’t have a community to rely on were less likely to survive. Today, a lack of sunlight can seriously alter mood, especially for those in high-pressure jobs like congressional staffers.

“You’re working in a stressful environment, and the seasonal component comes into play,” Lucas said. “Cortisol is rushing through your body, and your serotonin and melatonin are off. You’re just a mess.”

Link and his wife are more than ready for spring. In the coming months, they plan to spend a lot of time camping and hiking in places like Shenandoah and Front Royal, Va., and Harpers Ferry, W.Va. Even though he is excited for the warmer weather, he said seasons are essential for marking time.

“The spring is my favorite season, but if you didn’t have winter, you would never appreciate spring,” Link said. “It would just be another day.”