Hope for one kind of spring can be found during a hike on snowshoes, while hope for another can come from an upset election in Quebec.
On a sunny afternoon a few days ago, my snowshoes kept me on top of deep old snow, but they were gradually slowing me down. They were no longer shaking off loose snow as I trudged between the trees. Instead, the snow stuck to the frames, packing hard and making them heavier with every step.
I stopped to knock it off and, looking down, I saw something that told me the warmish day wasn’t just a momentary thaw in the prolonged winter. I saw a tiny black dot leap off the brilliant white surface into the air and land a few inches away. It was a snow flea, of course — one among hundreds. More dots hopped every way they could in the sunlight.
Snow fleas, not being real fleas, are not harmful, but they’re numerous. They can become so dense they cover the snow like a shimmering black sheet, but they are nevertheless always a welcome sight. Since they only come out in late winter, they are the first certain proof that spring is on its way.
Another sign soon appeared. Flocks of snow buntings are now rising up from roadsides and winging along riverbanks, their compact forms flashing white in the sunshine.
Elsewhere in Labrador little children are setting up oven-rack traps to try to catch the small white birds, but I just watch as they fly up and away, appreciating their promise of warmer days. The snow fleas and snow birds both say the same thing: the snow will soon be gone.
Less predictable, but just as heartening, was a recent sign that’s promising the end of Canada’s long cold electoral winter, a sign that makes it difficult to keep holding onto the late winter blues, that injects a bit of optimism in the country’s political outlook: the resounding defeat of the Parti Québécois in Quebec’s recent election.
The results, brought about mainly by Quebec voters’ apparent aversion to instigating another constitutional crisis, promise Canada a milder, more pleasant summer than the country was otherwise anticipating.
Not only has Quebec’s separatist threat to the nation’s unity been put to rest for the time being, but the socially harmful Charter of Quebec Values (which would have rendered certain pieces of clothing illegal) has been safely removed from the province’s legislative blotter. The Quebec voters’ rejection of disunity and intolerance bodes well for future elections across the country, a welcome sign of political spring.
With the fleas and birds providing sure knowledge that the snow will soon stop falling, that the breezes will get warmer and that greenery will once again appear in the woods, it gets easier to see past the bad things and look at the brighter side of life, even political life.
Sure, two of the worst governments Canada has ever known (namely the Progressive Conservatives in St. John’s and the Harper Conservatives in Ottawa) will still be able to hang onto power for more than a year each, able to do pretty much whatever they want in the duration, but they are both displaying signs indicating that this year will most probably be their last year, at last.
The provincial government, under its second appointed premier since Danny Williams moved into the shadows, is desperately clutching its discredited Lower Churchill megaproject to its panicky chest, in order to save its massive expenditures from the public chopping block, but it is rapidly throwing every other cherished PC policy to the wolves in an attempt to curry the dwindling favour of the increasingly progressive-minded voters, the ones near-starved after the long provincial Tory winter.
The federal government, on the other hand, is resisting the progressive thaw with all its might — obstinately denying that it’s happening, that the season is about to change.
Even as every new Conservative initiative alienates yet another segment of the Canadian electorate (cutting all the way into the party’s core of support), the government’s ministers barrel blindly ahead, brooking no amendments, apparently oblivious to the spring floods rising to their ears.
Michael Johansen is a writer living