From My WindowIssue Date: February 16, 2022
Jane Thibodeau Martin
Teasing the Spring
Late last week we were treated ?? a deeply appreciated treat ?? when we had two days of above 32 degrees weather. Not much above 32, mind you, but enough to bring a smile to my face. As I worked near the kitchen sink, I could watch an icicle about a foot long slowly dripping, with a noticeable shrinkage through late afternoon, until it disappeared completely. What a joy, and no, it really doesn't take much at this time of winter to get me excited.
I have begun to see the unmistakable first signs of spring. The most noticeable, perhaps, is the bare hint of the blush of dawn in the east as I make my morning coffee; and the twilight lingering long enough that I can still see individual trees in the woods after our evening meal. Spring equinox is less than five weeks away. The increase in my energy is noticeable ?? that primordial urge to hibernate is slowly leaving me.
Some of the bigger trees at the edge of the woods are sporting their "spring rings." That's what I call the gap in the snow that opens up around the tree trunk at the top of the snow cover, with the snow shrinking away from the radiant heat absorbed by the dark bark on sunny days. These rings slowly, with some setbacks from fresh snow, increase in size as spring approaches, melting all the way down to the bare earth. It's like a tiny oasis in the sea of snow cover. Birds and rodents immediately begin using this access to ground to hunt for food at the base of these trees.
The pussy willows are still completely dormant, but on each twig, I can see the tiny scales that cover what will slowly swell into catkins. I watch them like a hawk starting in March, always anxious for the first sign they are coming back to life. They can survive a late frost or two, as hardy as they are. I just love them; they are a tough little shrub perfectly suited to our climate.
After months of muffled near-silence in the woods, with the periodic hammering of the woodpeckers the only bird sounds I heard, bird vocalizations have returned. I hear the rowdy blue jays warning the entire woods that the two-legged menace is on the move; accompanied by the hairy carnivores who are her normal companions. The chickadees are more comfortable with me, they might cease their "spring soon" song as I pass close by; but within a few steps of my passage, they are right back at it. It is such a happy and optimistic song; you can't help but smile when you hear it. Another cheering observation is that the male goldfinches are changing over to their reproductive bright yellows after a winter of dull olives and browns.
The weekend brought another aptly named "arctic blast." Saturday morning we awoke to a 13 below zero wind chill. No matter, I am buoyed by the taste of spring we had earlier in the week. Mike quipped "hope the car starts!" The term never fails to make me laugh, because it is a memory from my childhood.
We didn't have a garage for our car, and on below zero mornings, sometimes our little VW beetle wouldn't start. Dad didn't have an engine block heater, so if the engine wouldn't turn over, the kids were rousted from their beds with the dreaded call up the steps ?? "the car won't start!" Still in our flannel nightgowns and pajamas, we'd struggle into our boots and coats, grab our mittens and report for duty. As a team we could push the car to the top of the tiny hill in our driveway (I seem to recall my little brother sitting behind the wheel and steering, while dad helped push.) Then Al would join my sister and I at the rear bumper, and dad would push with the driver's door open, bracing his other hand on the car frame. With luck, he could jump into the car seat once the car was moving, and pop the clutch. Away he'd go, while we'd trudge half frozen yet still half asleep, back into the house.
At one point dad had the inspiration to put a household light bulb on his engine block, running an extension cord into the basement to power it, and covering the block with a blanket hoping to keep the car warm enough to start. This resulted in the entire car burning to a cinder, without a remaining speck of paint, during the night while we slept.
I can still find joy in the fact that these days my car is in the garage; I will not be summoned impatiently into below zero Wisconsin winter in a nightgown to push a car down a little hill. Sunday morning brought an even worse 35 below zero wind chill, but it won't last long this time.
The "arctic blast" will soon return to the arctic, where it belongs. By midweek I will be outside again, searching for the spring teasers I know are just around the next bend in the woods trail.
BOOK I AM READING:
"Fox and I, an Uncommon Friendship," by Catherine Raven. A book about human relationships with nature and animals by an author with a very unusual perspective; a PhD in biology and a Mensa member, who is much more comfortable around "unboxed animals" than she is around her fellow humans. It is very different, very lovely, and highly thought-provoking.
You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.
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