Spring. It's a common word in all kinds of Germanic languages meaning to jump.
It's also related to the Lithuanian to punch in, the old Slavonic to stretch, the ancient Greek to hasten, the Sanskrit to be eager.
You get the point. Something coiled with energy is about to go off or is already doing so.
Well, it did go off this past week, all over the short span of five days of walking to work.
The chunks I'd knocked off the snow banks on either side of my driveway with a pick axe the evening before had frozen again over night. But I knew they wouldn't last.
A cool but definitely not wintry drizzle was coming down. Snow rot was in the air and at work.
Not far down the street I came upon a bird perched on the branch of a maple tree, a little harbinger of things to come, all puffed up and chanting his tiny heart out. Like a mini steam engine blowing off mating pressure. Toot! Toot! Tweet! Tweet!
A scatter of snowdrops was getting ready to bloom in a yard along New Cove Road.
Half of Larch Park had shed its snow cover. Rennie's River, almost iceless, flowed with newfound ease. Winston Churchill atop his monument in Churchill Park was looking as grim as ever with the same splatter of bird droppings from last year crowning his head, but in the flower beds below things were happening — an army of brown daffodil shoots, all in neat marching rows, was pushing through the soil like dragon teeth come to life.
I kept saying to myself, oh yes, the back of this winter is broken. Finally.
I realized, even as I put the garbage out, that a winter coat was going to be too hot for the day. I gladly accepted the rite of passage and changed into something lighter.
The sky was more hazy than cloudy, with enough sun coming through to cast pale shadows. A lively, not unpleasant breeze blew over the city. Wind sweep, not rot by drizzle, was going to be nature's way of removing snow that day.
On Torbay Road I saw the first crocuses in bloom — pale blue as if they still had half a root in winter.
Sloping Berteau Avenue was lined with sculptures where melt water running along the curbs had carved tunnels and arches through the dwindling patches of snow and ice. I was thinking, soon I'll be back on the East Coast Trail again where similar structures all along the curb between land and sea have been in the making for millions of years.
By the time I reached Long Pond Road, I was warm even in my light coat and took it off.
The day we had all been waiting for.
Just a few wisps of cloud in the sky. The air, warm and soft as if piped in from some other, kinder place. Birds chirping, chanting, cackling, and cawing up and down the street. All that was missing was the Shallaway choir singing Hallelujah.
I felt like punching the air as if someone had just scored the winning goal. Yes!
Wherever you looked the snow was gone and crocuses were blooming in all colours. Not so long ago you had to drive all the way down Waterford Bridge Road to get your first crocus fix of the year. Now they're everywhere.
A little red truck spun its wheels as it turned out of Berteau Avenue and sped lustily up New Cove Road. On Roche Street, three kids in summery clothes frolicked around a tent pitched in their front yard. I had the sensation of being given a brief glimpse of the future, or else of a sweeter parallel universe.
A circular saw sang across Larch Park all the way from some house or deck getting repaired or upgraded on Rennie's Mill Road. Even the rumble of the city's traffic seemed more alive, more energetic, more omnipresent.
Rennie's River was running high with melt water, efficiently and purposefully. With all due respect to civil engineers and their great feats of structuring things around us, in my books Rennie's River is still the most attractive storm sewer in this part of the city.
By the time I reached Burton's Pond on the Memorial University campus, I wanted to sit down on a bench, close my eyes and just soak it all in.
But I was running late.
The saying "One step forward, two steps backward" came to mind. The sun was back again, but so was the cold.
It was as if everything had been put on hold. A good time, I thought, to survey the damage.
Nature left its mess. Yards littered with sticks and branches, sidewalks covered with mats of leaf rot. Rhododendron bushes have taken a beating everywhere with their top leaves curled and brown from frostbite.
Humans left their usual mess as well. Litter and scatterings of downright garbage everywhere. You don't have to look at the financial books of Tim Hortons to figure out that the franchise is doing well. There are enough TH cups flattened by winter all over the place to tell the story.
'I kept saying to myself, oh yes, the back of this winter is broken. Finally'
There's also the mess left by machines, mostly snow plows. Retaining walls crushed. Front lawns gashed. Fence post pushed over. Park benches upturned.
St. John's city hall will no longer talk about this kind of collateral damage, citing liability concerns. MUN administrators say the contractor who does their snow clearing is responsible for any destruction. I've seen the repairs take months in past years. I've also seen them never happen at all. Clearly, damage prevention begets its own damage.
And then there's the first spring bloom of all — the layer of street grime that's over everything like a seasonal mould.
No change from the day before. Same cold. Same blue sky. Same suspension of however much spring had sprung on the days before.
With one exception. The streets were deserted. Even the birds kept their steam inside their boilers.
I always wondered what's so good about it. Back where I grew up, every statue in church, every painting, everything with even a hint of life to it (both sacred and profane) was covered with black cloth. We altar boys exchanged our hand bells for wooden rattles that made the sound of clicking bones.
Good Friday? More like Grim Friday.
That, too, is part of the ritual — the death of death as things start coming to life again.
Even the death of death is a slow process around here. Friday held its own, but on the forecast the clouds were gathering again, and they had winter written all over them.
We know better. The faint sheen of new green on the winter lawns is telling us. So's the lusty volume of the bird songs. The way the air seems to carry sounds more generously. Even the back yard harvest as the receding snow reveals what your pets have been up to all winter.
Something snapped this past week. We can relax.