Regardless of what the calendar may yet say, spring has happened. It couldn’t have come too soon, and it wasn’t just last week and its windy 70s that have convinced me. I have been keeping a journal of sorts in my head for a fortnight now, stashing away reports of birds and buds and sounds in the crammed cabinets of my mind, all in a file marked, “The New Season.”
Despite the gale-force winds of the early month, my wife and I have been walking our road in the early evenings. As I write this, we just braved nearly 3 miles of gusts, our hair soon looking like a pair of old bird nests that have come unraveled. In succession, I noted an Eastern Bluebird, a lonely dandelion, a very green willow tree, a solitary crocus, a pair of men who stood fishing in short pants, and a brown-and-white duck that walked to the pond’s edge, upright — like a man in a back brace — before sliding into the water as smoothly as a john boat.
The wind battered us, but the nice weather keeps us from walking the halls of our school in the late afternoons, a habit we have gotten into when it is too cold or wet to walk outdoors.
We slogged against the breezes, not unlike an old dog that is wary of an outstretched hand, and once I turned to look for traffic just in time for the wind to fill my shirt like a sail and push me into a ditch.
These are good things, almost as pleasing as the frogs I hear through the screened window of my cabin. They are happy to be up from the ooze and out from under their tree bark prison cells, finally into the sun, all calling out loudly for dates in their slimy lonely hearts clubs. They are happiest, its seems to me, in the very early morning when the stars are still out, and at dusk, as if they appreciate the sunset as much as I do.
I went to work in my yard two Saturdays ago. It was a cloudless, sunny and breezy day, so I washed out my coffee cup and tugged on the jeans that I leave by the garage’s back door in late fall. I donned a pair of hiking boots and my favorite ball cap, too, and headed outside to do what I could do.
Although I was a bit tired when I came in a few hours later, it felt good to breathe air that had not come to me through a furnace filter, and the warmth of the sun crept through my thin long-sleeved shirt. Had it been a little warmer, I’d have let it get to the pale skin of my arms, for I have grown white in my jackets and sweaters this winter. It didn’t take long for me to drop my gloves off at the doorstep; I didn’t need them, and I thought a little dirt under my nails wouldn’t hurt, either.
I have been able to get outside off and on this winter, and I have managed to keep the yard policed, plucking the occasional beer can or tree limb or paper napkin up from where the wind has deposited it. But there was much more than that to do, so first, I fired up an old weed trimmer, on which I keep a saw blade, and gave our tall ornamental grasses nice flat-tops. We like to see the frost on the grass all winter, but tiny green shoots of new growth were hankering to get up and at it, so I evened things up and tossed the old brown grass over the back hill.
I raked pile after pile of leaves and sticks, as well. I often thought our lawn looked nice as the winter wiled itself away — I could still see the lines I cut into it with my mower last November — yet it yielded wheelbarrow loads of the brown and brittle trash, mostly blown into the niches of my flower beds and shrubs and rock walls. Our fat barn cat, Max, followed me around the yard like a devoted friend, but never offered to help me at all. He mostly came near my work, then would promptly plop himself into a sunny spot to sleep a while. And for that, he still expects a full food dish.
There were surprises to be found, first in the scraggy potted mums that I needed to empty. All winter long, those pots sat against a fence, the mums in them crunchy and dead. But as I picked up the first pot, I noticed that the plant inside was still alive. In fact, all but 2 of the 10 pots had generous amounts of growth in them, bits of the living among the dead. When the ground warms, they’ll go into it, and not without some guilt on my part, for I left them unplanted last fall because I was too faithless to believe they’d make it through the winter anyway. “Hardy” has become a catchword for “Dead by December” to me, but these mums must have come from stouter stock.
After attending the mum revival, I worked on an old trellis that blew over last month and fractured a support. It has been kept together with a few screws and a promise for the past few years, but I have it standing up again, ready to do battle with spring rains and summer sun. We’ll see if it can go another year.
I have built an impressive pile of twigs and limbs behind my barn, and I am just about ready to set a match to it. I added considerable fuel to the pyre that day, and I re-stacked rock and cleaned my gutters and swept my walks clean. I saw that the buds are budding, the irises are up, the grass is greening, and I even had to pull a few weeds.
Before I walked into the garage, I thought about how fortunate I was to be picking up around the house, rather than picking up what was left of my house, as those in West Liberty and Henryville are doing in the wake of the terrible storms that hit there a few weeks ago. I know that the spring wind is a fickle old gal, and my mind went to that tragedy often. I was gathering up just a few twigs and tired old leaves; there was no grumble or complaint to be found in me on a day when the sun shone and I was breathing good air into my lungs.
In this report from the country, I am glad to say that the sassafras is green and the raspberry briars and the honeysuckle have small ruby-colored leaves of new growth on them; I can smell the flowers of the latter in imagined summer breezes already. It felt good to walk around with tools in my hands and a little sweat in my hair, and later that night, I felt lucky to be able to look to the western sky and see the celestial dance that was played by Venus and Jupiter.
It was a day to bend and stretch and think.
Mike Lunsford can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or c/o the Tribune-Star at P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN 47808. Visit his website at www.mikelunsford.com. He will be speaking and signing his books at 6:30 p.m. April 10 at the Brazil Public Library.