The dog and I slipped across the ice-crust at sunrise. I felt brave and happy getting down the stairs without falling and splitting open my skull. The dog steamed and stained the ice. We crunched back up the stairs and I listened to the silly birds singing. At this moment I believe I cracked the egg of spring nostalgia for my former home on Vancouver Island.
Sitting at the kitchen table, my page splashed with light the colour of laundry water, I can hear a robin and a cardinal bantering outside. Their loud and cheerful conversation, throats full throttle, penetrates the double-glazing of my kitchen windows. They’re home, too.
Outside everything is crusted in shiny ice. Yesterday’s snow is shellacked with freezing rain and it gives the world an Easter meringue look. This is my home. Winter in March. Winter in April. Sometimes winter in May. Home is where Ottawa’s two rivers agitate the ice like giant slushy machines, sending the ducks and geese flapping for shore with a tumbling heave-ho! The rivers are no places to be during spring break up.
I’m not broken up anymore about Ottawa’s spring which is best described with two words: running sap. The first signs of spring are invisible. Maple trees begin waking up when temperatures rise slightly above zero during the day and slump back slightly below zero at night. It’s subtle. Maybe a stethoscope would pick up the beating heart of a maple that makes its veins pump life into March.
This place I’ve lived in for 36 years has finally become home. It started when my mother died two decades ago and gradually took hold when the kids arrived shortly after. Home is: The annual spring melt which makes our Sawmill Creek rise; speaking French and English; seagulls without a sea; friends my kids have had since kindergarten; no school on snow-days; winter boots in May; sandals before all the snow is gone.
My mother kept me attached to a place that I had physically separated from forty years ago. Her news of flowers and ocean, high tides and low, stirred up nostalgia like a trawler dredging the seabed. Spring was the worst season and April was the cruelest month. There: Cherry blossoms, daffodils, raincoats and umbrellas, running shoes. Here: Down-filled parkas, 20 cm of snow, terrified robins cowering in cedar hedges, wool socks.
Yesterday as I drove to appointments in the ice pellet-snow-freezing rain-wind-storm through roads rutted with snowy grit, I passed along streets deep with memories – kids twitching in the back seat as we drive en route to my sister-in-law’s for the Easter egg hunt; the canoe strapped on the roof of the car as husband and I head to the river for a morning paddle; daughter and boyfriend in the back seat primped for prom; confronting infertility through the windshield wipers; driving slowly to attend my sister-in-law’s funeral; pulling up to my husband’s ancestral home where everyone faithfully gathers to celebrate all family members’ birthdays.
Spring thaw now makes me nostalgic for winter, a mudless season, when everything is clean and clear and cold and simple. Survival and bare necessities. It makes me want summer to hurry up and come.
Spring here is quick and dirty. There is no lingering courtship with the coming season. It’s a headlong dive into a rushing river and then a long hot summer. Spring here is a spare tire in the trunk.