Thursday, March 20, 2014

Signs of Spring: Not So Much

            The rain falls, it's comforting. Maybe that's because it's been a long time since a precipitation forecast didn't include a certain latitude for snow -- "mixed with," "chance of," "periods of," or just plain snow. It was a rain event. I listened to the fall, steady, but not too hard.
            Lying in bed, the sound of this rain gives me a warm, happy feeling. It's not easy to say why. Plenty of rains don't.
            I made the decision to call it "a spring rain." It's a harbinger, a herald. An invitation. A precursor to a cosmic event. I'd like to say that a part of me remembered that at 12:57 p.m. today -- March 20 -- that cosmic event took place. But that would be a flagrant untruth since I didn't even know when the first day of spring fell this year and had to look it up.
            The temperature is up in the fifties today, certainly a significant improvement, but it's gray after morning sunshine and windy. I keep waiting to jump and down and do a dance for spring, but I can't find a reason.
            I walk the neighborhood. Some of the usual suspects make an appearance, like the big black cat that's taken to cutting a path through our backyard. The kind of people who don't own winter coats even in winter are thumping back from the subway in their shirt sleeves; they say, 'I have my backpack to keep me warm.' And I discover a few people outdoors doing things to their yards.
            A woman with red hair attacks her lawn with vigorous rake-hauling strokes. I hear the sound of scraping coming from behind a fence in the backyard of another house.
            And I think we can begin the count for the number of days since the last, actual, measurable snowfall.
            But on the whole signs of spring are thin on the ground.
            I keep hounding my plants for updated information, maybe a short-term projection of growth potential, but when I look at the earth I find no new green anywhere. Plants I've seen blooming in February (Lenten rose; hellebores) look like death on a withered stem on the so-called first day of spring. Apparently lying under snow cover for two months has some lingering effects.
            The Boston low for yesterday (March 19) was 27. Come on, atmosphere, we've got to do better than this. You've got to keep the temperature over freezing -- most of the time -- for the earth to warm sufficiently for the roots to give the word to shoot the shoots.
            Chaucer calls them "the tendre croppes" in the famous first 19-lines of "The Canterbury Tales." He places them in the month of "Aprille" when the "shoures soote" -- that's "sweet showers" (ah ha, was that what I heard last night?)  -- have "bathed every veyne in swich licour/ Of which vertu engendred is the flour." That's 
Middle English for "have bathed every vine in such liquid of which virtue is the flower." (I like his version better.) But I'm taking his point: the rain comes first. Then comes the warm wind, called Zephirus for classical reasons: "Zephirus eek ["also] with his swete breeth/ Inspired hath in every holt and heeth ["wood and grassland"]/ The tendre croppes..."
        All right, so maybe we have to wait for April.

          The sap is running in bird land, however.
          The other day the male cardinal followed the female around the weeping cherry tree -- very closely. She hops onto a tree branch, he lands on the same branch. She flies away. He flies away....The tale is clear: She's trying to ditch him, and he's saying "oh, no you don't, baby." Somehow we know how this will end.
            Redbirds to the side, here's is my cumulative total of "sings of spring" so far.

                                                Signs of Spring

            We go looking for signs of spring.
            In the arboretum we find babies, toddlers, lots of people, an array of tiny dogs.
            The kid shooting basketball in his backyard behind the house, I hear the bound, the bounce ... Bounce-bounce-bobble-bounce. 
            (I will hear it all year once again, until it grows too cold or the snow swallows up the spring of the bounce.)
            The love/longing song I hear in a book store,
            that makes me want to run up to the cashier, throw my arms around him, and beg him to sell me the CD
            Ah, this is a poem.
            It's the kind of thing you think about when you're raking the leaves off the first emergences of spring:
            How do we know this world we are part of?
            And what will we do with this love?