Heartbreak season

Russell Wangersky
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Perhaps its early absence, or maybe even its back-and-forth lateness, that makes spring here so particular.

The way it comes, not in a rush, but in a collection of singular notes, a song sung slowly and precisely, snatches of music to be enjoyed an individual piece at a time.

Just two weeks ago, with the last day of March, there was snow and cold and high winds on the east coast of the province, and spring seemed more than miles away. That snow might yet come again, but it's already turned the corner to the melting kind, the kind of snow that has to fight against the pent-up warmth of the ground and always loses.

By last weekend, the slow switch to spring was falling note over note: wood smoke in the air isn't the dry note of winter anymore, but the rounder, fuller, wetter smoke you meet on cold foggy days when someone's trying to wick off spring damp out of their living room, or the feral smudge of someone else with a small fire burning in the woods.

On Saturday past, I saw the towering column of black smoke from someone burning raked debris, the author of that ashy tale sitting calmly nearby with the rake, and I could almost feel the warmth of the flames, the way an outdoor fire heats up just one side of you while your back stays resolutely cold.

There were other pieces of Newfoundland spring to be found last weekend: we might be holding back, too clearly aware that the weather can change, but the birds aren't. Starlings are collecting nesting materials, and everything else, from the chickadees to the robins to the siskins, seem keen on pointing out their presence in song. A still morning brings an avian riot that you realize all at once that you've forgotten about in its absence, and you realize also that you are both surrounded and outnumbered by black-eyed, beady-eyed watchers, and probably have been for many quieter months.

Others forgotten

And that riot of sound is far from the only thing it's easy to forget: looking out across fields in Conception Bay North where there used to be homes, the ground is all still sedge-yellow and straw-brown, the rose bushes and abandoned trees still bare sticks.

But in under the thatched grass, there is already green - and in the city, the lawns are inching towards green as well, inching in that way that makes you think that parts of them just might have changed while you happened to be looking in another direction.

Brooks are in full flush right now, but far from fishable; more than anything else, the water looks brassy and cold, stripped of the brown peat that will mark high water later in the year. It's enough to make you think of fish, but only as future opportunity.

And the smells? Nobel rot might be too fine a way to describe it, but the air all at once is heavy and wet and loamy, and the smell of rain isn't like cold air anymore, but more like the sharp metal of summer storms. It is both wonderful and peculiar to see things living again, to see the hopeful poke of the snowdrops and crocuses, to watch the very last of the pond ice blacken and fade.

There is certainly heartbreak in our spring, the back-and-forth of it, the way a morning of slashing-down sleet can be four steps backwards for every one-degree baby step we get to move ahead. Step outside after seven in the morning and see the frost on the windshield again, and the only small satisfaction you can take from it is that it is the soft kind of frost that bunches into round heaps instead of winter's hard icy flying shards.

Still, walking through occasional evening bands of barbecue smoke smelling of steak and summer goes a long way towards believing that warmer weather will soon be here. Finding those one or two early days that there have been a few of, where you can take off your jacket and lean against the sunny side of a building, feeling the sun on your front and the easy soaking heat radiating off the siding at your back. The kind of days that pick up your feet and lift your heart.

We always get spring in inches, two-way inches that will always, always test your faith.

It's not always easy, but some things are better savoured that way.

At least you know you won't miss it: how could you?

It starts all over again too many times each year.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram's editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at rwanger@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: The Telegram

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Conception Bay North

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