Sunday, March 21, 2010

Pushing the Season

The notion that spring begins on a particular day is false and misleading, as anyone knows who spends a bit of time outdoors. It is certainly true that the days and nights are now roughly the same length, and almanacs have been reporting such information for centuries, but the meaning of the word “spring” and the timing of its arrival is something to be decided by poets, not astronomers, and that includes all of us.

It is no less wrong-headed, it seems to me, to consider the call of the cardinal in January as a sign of spring. And nowadays you can see robins in Minnesota on any day of the year—they’ve been hanging out in the swamp north of Wirth Lake all winter. No, spring arrives by fits and starts, on a different schedule each year, and it always takes its sweet time doing so. It’s a smell in the air, the sight of bright sun on running melt-water, a certain leaden grayness on the lake ice, and the swelling of the buds on the maple trees.

The other day I saw a goldfinch on the feeder that was turning yellow. You can imagine what a thrill that was! I grilled vegetables one balmy evening not long ago, and last Saturday we discovered a new bike trail that cuts through the woods behind the golf course just south of our house to connect with the Luce Line, so we can now ride to the Golden Valley Library or post office—or all the way to Waterton, which is 30 miles away, for that matter—without crossing the street.

I heard some red-winged blackbirds squawking this morning for the first time, and we also spotted a magnificent V of Canada geese passing overhead during a visit to Hyland Park Reserve. The event took on greater interest when a flock of tundra swans approached at the same altitude heading due west. The swan formation clipped the trailing column of the geese, and there was fifteen seconds of commotion as the two strings of birds struggled to continue on their paths. Ten or twelve of the geese ended up winging it with the swans for a hundred yards before recognizing their mistake and returning to their own pack.

During the next half hour three more V-shaped flocks of brilliant white swans passed overhead, perhaps a hundred birds in each, and in one of them we noticed two Canada geese embedding in the train. Well, why not?

I may have been pushing the season a little, but on Thursday I bought two rock-hard tomatoes, a package of greenhouse basil, and a very fresh head of organic garlic, which I chopped and mixed into a topping for grilled bread. It was a little too cold yesterday to be sitting outside eating it, but we were suitably dazzled by the afternoon light streaming in through the windows past the bare trees.

As the light faded from the sky we watched two films that are worth mentioning: Schultz Gets the Blues and The Ladies #1 Detective Agency. The Int’l Film Festival is approaching, and none too soon. For there are plenty of gray days in springtime. In fact, at some other time I might argue that spring doesn’t really begin until May.

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