It is spring in Ann Arbor, Michigan. So far, like the damp, chilly winter we just had, spring has been wet, but it’s been punctuated by promising warm days under skies as blue as memories. This season has a reputation for frolic, mating rituals, the riotous bursting forth of suppressed life. But there is an earnestness to spring as well, an implied faith that awakening from dormancy is worth the bother despite the short growing season of this northern clime. It is a sense that life will out, that even in this time of unreason and teetering on the brink of we-know-not-what-but-it-don’t-seem-good, the world is safe enough to re-enter.

IMG_4886.jpgLooking out my bedroom window to my backyard, I think that autumn is not the only season with “peak color.” Spring has it, too, and it is upon us. The new leaves on the young tulip tree are a bright, succulent green that seems as much a light source as a reflection. Nearby, the Japanese maple leaves appear like delicate little hands painted a rich, dark red. The pink flowers of the pear tree next door arc above the fence. They remind me of redbuds, whose branch-hugging blossoms outline the bony winter shapes of the trees even as they declare, “It’s spring! It’s finally spring!”

Sunlight through translucent new leaves is lovely, but it is on a rainy day that the colors are at their peak. The wetness reveals the truest hues as it does in river stones. It is tempting to collect those stones, to bring them home to admire, yet it never quite works out, does it? Dry, they become dull and dusty, seemingly ordinary, and when you notice them months or years later, you wonder what possessed you to put them on your mantle or sideboard or whatever knick-knack place you have. You could put them in a home fountain to expose their beauty once again, and maybe you do for a time, but eventually you tire of refilling it, when all along if you had left them in the river, they would have shone for you and anyone else who happened upon them.

I stand on my front porch and look at the new redbud tree that stands hopefully where a lovely one, carefully nurtured, once lived. That one, having just reached its prime, was crushed by a mammoth street tree that fell during a windstorm, grazing the house when it could have destroyed it. We cleaned up, did some thankfully minor repairs, and planted another redbud. It appears to be thriving, and it should have a nice long life in its spot. Then again, that’s what I thought about the previous one until its lease all too suddenly ended. For now, the new tree seems to be making the best of the time it has in what was a place of life, then sudden death, and now life again. I miss its predecessor, but I am rooting for this one. It’s gradually coming into its own. Life, like truth (I hope), will out. Spring is its time.

Emergence: A Spring Appreciation

spring shootsMarch passed in its typical, indecisive style. Though the Michigan winter loosened its grip, it also clamped back down every couple of days, a rough reminder that it could still send us diving under our blankets.

Yet when the sun was high in the sky, it was no longer a teasing, distant disk that offered light but no heat. Now we could feel it. As March went on, much of our record snowfall melted away. We opened our jackets and welcomed the sunlight against our pale skin. Pond-sized puddles formed on sidewalks and along curbs. Most nights, they froze hard and slick.

April has started with the promise of a consistent run of above-freezing highs. After the winter we’ve had, it’s no surprise that a 45-degree day feels balmy. I was happy to tuck my parka into the closet in favor of a light jacket.

We wince at enormous potholes, swerving our cars to avoid them if traffic permits. My son says it’s like the giant slalom in the Olympics. And when you’ve got no choice but to hit one of these craters, trouble follows. Crumpled hubcaps decorate the curbs of our busiest routes, and tire stores are having a banner spring.

Filthy, icy piles of snow remain, like tiny glaciers, layered and compacted and full of grit. My driveway is clear now, but there were three inches of ice there for months, four or five at the base of the curb cut. Hacking it out made my shoulders burn.

As we clean up, sweeping away winter’s mess and turning our faces to the sun with relieved appreciation, we search our garden for signs of life. There’s not much there yet, but this morning, as I set out for work, thin crocus leaves greeted me, barely peeking from their pale sheaths.

The Quiet Season

With a decisive “click,” the glass of the storm windows locks into place, and the quiet season begins. The sounds of the outside world recede, muffled for the rest of the fall and winter, and I experience my usual mix of feelings at the start of this hushed time: peace and comfort in the relative silence of a warm home, a sense of loss with the passing of summer and fall, anticipation and resignation about the cold, gray winter ahead.

After growing up in Los Angeles, with its stunted sense of seasons, I appreciate the yearly cycle in the Great Lakes region, even though it can be hard. Winter is long and demanding. We sometimes have a week-long thaw in February, and eager faces turn toward the southern sky like sunflowers. Then the thaw ends. Winter returns. We scurry back indoors. When spring finally comes in earnest, I marvel at the bravery of snowdrops and crocuses and await the early-season tulips.

But long before the first buds of spring start to swell, winter turns us inward. Even by Halloween, a few cold, damp, blustery days have sent snowflakes or ice pellets sideways. Wind and hard rains hammer the colored leaves out of the trees, scattering them across lawns and walks and streets. We see neighbors less often; their children don’t play outside as much, and the street is no longer filled with their piping, excited voices. There are fewer spontaneous meetings on front lawns and porches. House lights glow through closed windows.

When winter weather comes to stay, all becomes quiet. Snow covers trees and bushes and earth. Walking outside, my boots crunch in it. The sound travels only a short distance before the snow sucks it into silence.

Indoors, sealed against the weather, we watch the darkness come early. The fire crackles. Cars whisper past. The sound of the traffic on the big cross-street a couple of blocks away, heard easily through summer windows, cannot penetrate the storm glass. It is as if the traffic has been diverted, though the cross-street remains one of the busiest thoroughfares in town.

Our lives settle into an indoor rhythm. The dog, burly and bear-like in his winter coat, spends more time curled up and snoozing. The two cats spoon like quotation marks. Flannel sheets go on the bed. Even they are quieter, rustling less than the smooth, cool, snappy sheets of summer. Soup burbles on the stove. The furnace hums to life, roars out its hot breath for a while, then sleeps again.

When I take the dog for his bedtime stroll, he sticks his nose deep in the snow, and I look up at the stars, waiting for him to be satisfied. A neighbor comes out of his house to rummage in his car. After he finds whatever he’s looking for, he straightens and notices me. We have known each other for a decade. In warmer months, we chat about yards and bikes and his retirement travels. Now, he only nods and hurries inside. His front door clicks shut, and I return to the stars. Orion hunts in the cold winter sky.