Downtown Color in the Spring, Knoxville, March 2023
I may be alone, here, but I’ve really missed color over the last several months. We had very little real winter — about a week as I recall — in which we got a small snow and dipped down to three degrees. But, boy, we had rain. It seemed one rainy, modestly cold day followed another. Glimpses of the sun were followed by days of drizzle. Gray followed gray, days upon end.
Now we’re getting a bit of sunshine and the grass is turning green. I’ve never been happier to see it, that I recall. The redbud trees are doing their dance and that is surely to be followed by the dogwoods. Some dogwood blooms are even peeking out a bit. I decided to walk around town to spot color. Sort of like “Sunsphere-spotting,” the activity many of us have done for years, but which was recently given a name by new resident Luke Frazier.
As I walked around the city, I quickly realized that the sunshine may have produced premature hopes for color. There were redbuds, and I found one dogwood blooming. Later when I drove across the river, I noticed that more dogwoods are blooming there — further south? Mostly, nature is just getting geared up, which is probably just as well, since we’ll likely have a few more freezes before winter is completely gone. Then the colors will explode, and the city will be beautiful, once more.
There are also brave businesses and building owners who are going out on a limb and planting flowers in mid-March. There were sprinkles of flowers in pots and window boxes. Boyd’s Jig and Reel had already taken the early risk with little sprinkles of gold and violet.
I walked remembering the spring of 2020. Do you remember how vibrant the colors seemed that year? To this day I’ve never been certain if they truly were exceptional, possibly made so by the reduction in air pollution because for several weeks few people drove and many jets sat idle. Or was it simply that in the quiet of little activity, in the pause of normal work and life, we actually saw what is there every year? I’ve never settled it in my mind.
We haven’t gotten to that level of vibrancy just yet and won’t for two or three more weeks, maybe a little longer. But watching for color made me notice the color that is always there, even in the grayest of months, like the color given to us by artists in the form of murals. It’s really amazing how many times they pop up from the Maker Exchange, to Strong Alley. On Clinch Avenue, artist Robert Felker even gave us Irises, the state flower, to enjoy year-round.
Lots of businesses offer splashes of color in a range of forms, from Alice in Appalachia to the explosion of color that has become Coffee and Chocolate. St. Patrick’s Day banners have joined the usual UT orange that hangs around all year.
And then, that golden orb does stick its head up when least expected. The shot I included here was taken from Walnut Street and looks different than ever before, because the building in the foreground didn’t exist until the last year. The new Fort Kid Park offers its own color, as does Knoxville’s version of Rainbow Row behind it. The park was covered in children enjoying the color and the fun.
I’ve also been thinking about my grandmother and seeing the children brought her to mind even more strongly. I called her Mamaw. She taught Sunday School for somewhere around thirty years in a little church in Citronelle, Alabama, always instructing the “beginners,” which in Southern Baptist parlance meant the young kids. I attended her class when I was the right age. I’d love to go back in time and sit on those hard chairs just once more.
I don’t remember anything she said in that class, though I dutifully attended many times. I do remember the Bible verse she had hand-lettered on a piece of poster board. I know it was there for twenty years, maybe more. It’s a verse that offers good advice no matter what your religious beliefs, or even whether you have any at all: “Be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another . . .” Ephesians 4:22. Those are words to live by. And I try, but fail, only to try again.
Spring is a time of rebirth and forgiveness, in a way. Yes, winter was cruel, but the grass, the trees, the plants, forgive all that and try one more time to make the world kinder and more beautiful. The tender plants give it another go and risk everything to come out of the ground, bloom, and welcome the new season.
Mamaw loved that, too, and every spring she could not wait to get her hands dirty in the rich soil, coaxing up another season of what would make life more beautiful — she loved hydrangeas and azaleas, particularly — and what would feed her family from the garden which always seemed to get a bit larger each year.
This past week, and at other times in previous months and years, we’ve strayed from what I had hoped would be great conversation in this space into personal attacks and unkind remarks. I said from the beginning that I would not have that happen and I’ve not kept my end of the bargain, though I’ve tried. The kindness and grace referenced above has sometimes gone missing.
We are so accustomed to anger and self-righteous indignation on social media, that I sometimes think we don’t think realize when we’ve crossed that line. Attack mode, condemnation, and vitriol have become the norm.
This website was started with one bias: I love our city. I think most of you read this website because you share that bias. Does that mean we don’t have problems and can’t honestly discuss them? No. Does it mean we are all on the same page and won’t disagree? Of course not. Honestly discussing problems and respectful disagreement is welcome here. Disparagement of others is not. Be kind.
Do you want better writing on this website? Offer constructive criticism. I’ve always appreciated corrections. Do you want to convince other commenters that your perspective is the correct one? Be kind, be humble, explain your view and they will listen to you. Do you want better government? Do you want developers to build better buildings? Do you want business owners and managers to do a better job? Encourage them and explain how they might strive for excellence.
These people are giving everything they have to make businesses survive, developments work, to provide articles to you about all of the above for free, and to make the city we love a better place. They are people who, just like you, want Knoxville to be the best that it can be. Attacking them will not help. I’ve had more than one person recently tell me that the comments here really hurt them, and I won’t have that. (This was prior to any comments this week.) We all mess up, and gently, helpfully pointing that out when necessary, can be a good thing. Verbally attacking someone isn’t.
So, the next time you want to comment, ask yourself if your comment is kind. Ask yourself if you are being forgiving and understanding. If not, I will not accept the comment. I was called a censor this week because I disallowed a comment. If you feel I’m being a censor because I won’t let you be unkind or allow you to make an anonymous accusation without evidence, I’m sorry. Take it to Reddit or to Twitter. Not here.
In the meantime, get outside. Breathe in the fresh spring air and enjoy the emerging colors. Enjoy the flood of festivals and fun headed our way. Love our city. Forgive others’ shortcomings like spring forgives winter. We all mess up. And remember: Mamaw said to be kind.
(Ed. Note: This article was in no way sponsored or paid for by colors, kindness, or Mamaw. It is the genuine opinion of the writer.)