Thursday, April 05, 2007

Spring's Desolate Promise

It is April here in The North, and the Family Evil is just back from a week in Virginia. Spring has sprouted there: pansies fill flower beds, and the ubiquitous magnolias have bloomed. Magnolias are icons of the South, but they even grow up here. They are odd trees: they bloom large white and pink flowers before the leaves appear, and shed those blooms as well. Where we were, there were very few magnolia petals on the ground. When they do fall, they decompose quickly, emitting a dank perfume and making the ground slippery as ice.

Spring has started here as well. Through much of March, the temperatures here have matched those in San Francisco. The snow has all melted and the sharp bite of winter has disappeared from the air.

There is very little green here, yet. Some spikes of grass have pushed up, vividly verdant, mostly in sunny corners near brick walls, where the microclimate has run ahead by several weeks. Florists and grocery stores are selling baskets of spring bulb plants: crocus, daffodil, hyacinth--cheery pastels like Easter eggs for adults.

There is a rabbit who has huddled underneath the climbing tower in our backyard during the winter, he was there again today, looking tucked into himself for warmth. Because this is not San Francisco, or Virginia, and the temperatures have dropped back down below freezing again.

Out in the country, the fields are bare but neatly furrowed from last year's harvest. As the air warms up, the smell of warming fertilizer lifts off the black rows. A few bent stalks remain, broken and brown, looking all the more dead for lying against the rich soil.

In the city, flowerbeds are emerging as well. Edging markers--bricks, stones, black pipe--outline the space where the flowers will go. Nothing is in those beds yet, it is far too early. Groundhog's Day doesn't mean six more weeks of winter to us--it's nearly Easter and it's still six weeks before we can begin to feel safe from frost.

But some things are different and promising. After last summer's reconstruction of the roads and curbs, there are now new storm sewer drains, embossed with the silhouette of a loon, to remind us that these drain directly into the river. Where new concrete sidewalks were laid, you can find paw prints, names, shapes, and even the impression of bare feet that were set in before the cement hardened.

Nature is very brown, right now: dirt, dormant grass, leafless trees. But they are no longer covered in white, which means the promise of green spring.

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