Sunday, March 11, 2012

Time Changes

Another clear cold day. The sea is frozen out to the headland; a skim of brittle, pockmarked ice creeps up the beach with the tide, and the pond is solid again.  It snaps and groans and echoes in the cove, stretching and shifting beneath its closed skin.

The sun is high and bright and warm as it streams through the windows.  A time change today.  So early? I think. Already? 

I remember when it happened in May, the second Sunday in May, which was--or is my memory failing  me now?--also, often, Mother's Day. White or red carnations on everyone's breasts in church; white for those whose mothers had died, red for those whose mothers were still alive. Why then do I remember my own mother wearing a white carnation?

It couldn't have been so; her mother was still vibrant, active, a nearly daily force in our lives. We'd go see her later that day for a big supper, and play badminton in her back yard, careful not to trample her garden, the petunias velvety, nodding, colourful, like playful tiny faces. I always wanted to touch them.

May in Columbus, Ohio was sometimes cool, cooler than April--too cold for short skirts and knee socks--but spring was out full blast by then, the trees leafy, gardens in full bloom. And now and then it could even be hot.

I catch a whiff of the smell of freshly mown grass (a Saturday job in those days, not a Sunday one); I recall the wood stacked neatly in a sparse pile along one edge of our grandparents' backyard, everything clean and in good working order, neatly organized--not like at our house.  A sudden downpour, notes of spice and musk in the perfumes on my grandmother's dresser, bottles ranged and doubled on a mirrored tray.  Perhaps this is why I treasure the scent and colour of amber?  The ticking of the clocks; the cardinals at the birdfeeder; the large dial thermometer nailed to the maple tree.

Marike comes downstairs and opens the door.  Cool air streams into the house and I am suddenly back in Nova Scotia. Still, even here, the birds have begun to call and sing from the trees.  The last couple of days have been mild and everyone is expectant.  Spring will be here soon they say.

I find this funny.  I'm going on my nineteenth year in Canada, and I've grown used to waiting so long for the spring to come, that I hardly believe any of these signs.  I'm not sure winter has truly arrived yet--I keep waiting for it to get worse, for here, on the shore, March is the bitterest month; the time when the surface temperature of the sea reaches its nadir.

But perhaps, this year, we are already there.  Is this false hope brought about by an exceedingly early time change? What happened to bring it on so early? Or are my memories of my childhood faulty?  Even here the animals are already shedding, the birds singing, the ground muddy and earthy smelling. Two days ago we startled an otter in the marsh at high tide; it watched us through a hole in the ice, and then swam to another hole and popped up again and again, growling a little each time, before swimming out through the culvert and into the bay.

Perhaps the earth and these creatures know something I don't.  All along the shore streams rush and tumble into the water, sweeping away ice and stones and mud. The sap has been flowing all week too--a friend in Cape Breton is sugaring off.

I count the weeks: a bit more than a month of this term left.  I take a deep breath: relief--or oxygen--reaches all the way to my toes. Just then the ice on the pond flexes, hisses, growls; it sounds just like an enormous outdoor belly.  Hungry.  I am, too.


Birthday tulips--March 2012.

My mother sends me a snapshot of a vase of forsythia she's brought indoors and forced. An early March practice in Ohio, early May in Nova Scotia. Photo by Marcia Cope, St. Paris Ohio.

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