Ahh... Spring is in the air! Okay, so spring is already two-thirds gone and summer is less than a month away, but some of us are a little slower than others to wake up and smell the petunias.
My second favorite indicators of spring were the sounds of lawnmowers humming in the distance and the smell of freshly mown grass. That was, of course, before I matured and acquired the privilege of mowing lawns myself. Now – numerous bags of lawn clippings later – fresh-cut grass smells like work, not spring. And I moved away from the swamps, so the skunk cabbage has come more to symbolize a wetlands designation than the pleasantly pungent harbinger of springtime that it once was to me.
Maybe spring snuck up on me this year because I no longer have those childhood olfactory cues to rely on to herald the season. I mean, I should have felt its presence clear back in March, when my daughters helped pick daffodils for the church’s Easter cross. The experience really made an impression on the girls, especially two-year-old Emily. The next time she went out in our yard to play, she proceeded to pop the blossoms off almost every daffodil stalk in our yard. Then she proudly brought me the flowers to put in a vase.
I explained to the girls that in order to put flowers in a vase, their stems had to be longer, but we managed to enjoy the blossoms for a few days by floating them in a bowl of water. Sometimes I wonder if the girls really listen to anything I tell them. In this particular instance, however, my point was well taken: Madison and Emily soon discovered the blooming pansies and brought me a bouquet, complete with stems, stalks, leaves and roots dangling from the cheery little blossoms.
My daughters certainly have been relishing spring this year: hauling their lunches outside to make a picnic on the plastic table in the driveway, splashing in the wading pool, discovering ladybugs and butterflies and bee stings…
But spring is not a season to be experienced vicariously, and so even though the girls were taking in all of nature’s annual reawakening, I needed to experience some first-hand sensory input in order to come out of my winter funk and hibernation.
Maybe it was hearing the baby birds chirping in our woodstove chimney pipe (we never got around to clearing out last year’s nest). Or eating fresh Oregon-grown strawberries bought from a roadside fruit stand. Or watching our new house construction begin – the structure emerging from its concrete foundation, taking shape and growing – just like the ferns and blackberries and salal are springing forth from the duff of the surrounding woods. Or maybe it was catching the snippets of baseball game highlights on TV during the Blazer basketball series’ halftimes.
Then again perhaps it was the tactile sense that brought spring to life for me this year: helping the girls make flower chains out of dandelions they picked from the fields; getting dirt under my fingernails at work as I cleaned out flower beds, pulled weeds and transplanted seedlings; picking bark dust splinters out of my fingers after spreading the covering around the shrubs and flowers that landscape the grounds of the office and plant where I have been temporarily employed.
But I can’t help thinking that the olfactory cues of my childhood are still the strongest links to my personal affirmation of spring. And while I am watering the impatiens that I have planted in the flower beds in front of the wastewater treatment plant where I am now employed, I catch the faint odor of the sewage plant. For a moment my mind trips back to my open bedroom window and the skunk cabbage ripening in the murky waters of the swamp. And for some reason, I finally notice it: Spring is in the air.