Sure Signs of Spring…

March is my least favorite month of the year. Winter is winding down, but rarely leaves quietly. It’s often cold, but also wet and windy—the worst weather conditions—and even as it warms, the white snow turns dingy gray and black, uncovering a winter’s worth of dirt and debris:

Fat Tuesday
Why should the robin be the harbinger of Spring?
Why watch for flowers?
The tulip and the thrush borrow beauty from the sun;
tug their strength up from the dark earth.
Stronger still, and darker, is the crow.
Songbirds ride the North Wind south;
flowers hang their heads and retreat beneath the snow.
The crow remains.
Feathers ruffed, dark eye glaring sidelong, he stoops;
picks bits of hide and hair from the cold pavement.
A lean meal this Christmas, but Easter comes,
and Nature’s bounty blooming black from the snow.
A stiffened ear; the rack and ripe entrails—
the crow consumes all, makes ready the house for the Master’s arrival.

He waits, black as the cloth, preaching his monosyllable, fasting.

Poem, a Day Late (February 7, 2008)

As a general rule, I don’t shovel after March 1.* Invariably we get snow in March (and even April), which means that while our neighbors’ driveways still have nice straight edges and clear entry points, ours is a lumpy and treacherous mix of snow, slush, and refreeze.

When the blustery weather finally breaks (temporarily, of course), we see our first serious warm-up and venture out for a walk around the neighborhood. The curbs and gutters run with miniature rivers and rapids; last autumn’s soggy leaves and twigs form dams creating shallow pools for passing cars to splash through, and the storm sewers roar and rumble. The plowed snow along the road melts from the bottom up, creating shelves of ice that crunch and give way beneath our boots. With no talls weeds to hide it, litter appears — the soggy remains of last fall’s lunch someone tossed out the car window before the first snow. And then, after a couple days and maybe a good, hard rain, the mud forms.

It seems to come up from below. In our front yard, the worst is along the edges of the driveway, where we pushed back the snow and scalped and salted the lawn all winter. Our old Suburban has worn a muddy rut along the edge of the pavement on one side; on the other, a puddle shines iridescently from the slow leakage of three high-mileage automobiles on the concrete all winter.

Our Airedale Bruno, who has enjoyed the snow, avoids the puddles and rolls where the snow piles used to be, in the darkest, squishiest of the mud—then leaps to his feet and grins his panting-dog grin, as if to say, “Didja see that, Dad? How do I look?”

Our back yard is sloped and lower, and therefore worse. The footing is questionable at best—in some spots, sinking; in others, slick—and the terrain is bedeviled with dog piles that are increasingly hard to distinguish from the mud. I proved too impatient to train Bruno to go in the trees, and try as I might to convince the kids otherwise, they prefer one miserable day of spring poop cleanup then a daily foray all winter.

The mud, the leftover leaves, the dog’s droppings, and the emerging worms yield yet another of the sure signs of spring: the smell. I’m reminded of the disciples outside the tomb of Lazarus: “The world has been in the tomb five months, Lord…surely there will be a stench!”

Roll away the snow, and you’ll see.

Ironically, the oozy, wet, unpleasant smell of decay indicates a resurrection of sorts, though the early stages of this new life call to mind zombies more than babies:

Decease and Persist
Grey clouds spit chill drizzle on blackening snow;
Bare trees creak and clatter in scattering breeze.
Last leaves of past autumn tear, tumble, and blow —
And something undead stirs below.

The preening of songbirds begins in this cold.
Spring cleaning takes root in the richness of rot.
Aroma of flesh-fertile humus and mold —
Wet corpse-fed worm-fodder of old.

A fragrance of vagrants, impure and unclean;
Stiff leavings of winter now soften and spoil.
It rises but slowly, it’s smelt before seen;
The reek gives new meaning to green.

From ’neath this foul blackness we watch it arise;
Once-dead fingers scrabble from shadowy grave.
The zombie Earth lurches, blinks dirt from its eyes —
And stretches pale limbs toward the skies.

As swiftly the drifts turn to droplets and drown
What passes for life beneath Winter’s hard thumb,
With mindless persistence and sunblinded frown —
The dead rises up from the ground!

Life Stinks: An Early Spring Poem (March 17, 2011)

And then—as it has last night and this morning—it snows again. More refreeze. More mud. The delightful flurry of woodpeckers, songbirds, and plump squirrels gorging themselves at our feeders have retreated for the day. On a bare branch, again a gray sky, a crow caws urgently to its brothers. Something dead has been uncovered, no doubt.

Ah, spring…


*There are exceptions to this rule, such as when we get enough snow that the city plows plug the end of our driveway, making it impassable. Before shoveling commences, however, you best believe I’ll drive through it a few times with the Suburban to see if I can pack it down enough to get the other vehicles out!

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