Spring break-up

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.

Ice blasting where the Rideau River meets the Ottawa River is done to break up the ice and prevent flooding. (Photo credit: Xinhua News-David Kawai)

22 thoughts on “Spring break-up

  1. Bruce Goodman March 25, 2016 / 12:35 pm

    This was wonderful, Susanne. It was all about the season of letting go… the heart melting into new rivers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susanne March 25, 2016 / 1:40 pm

      Thanks, Bruce. After 58 years on the planet I’m finally learning to go with the flow. I’m a slow learner.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bruce Goodman March 25, 2016 / 2:15 pm

        You might be “slow” but it made me think how many long-gone things I “cling to”.


      • Susanne March 25, 2016 / 5:54 pm

        I do ponder the past too much, trying to sort it all out and I suppose that is a form of clinging but it can colour the way you live every day and not in a good way. Sometimes you don’t even know you’re hanging on until the ice breaks up and everything starts to flow a whole lot better – to continue the metaphor. Happy to have dynamited some ice for you today.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. thecontentedcrafter March 25, 2016 / 12:58 pm

    What amazing places you have been, or are, tied to! Something in me would like to experience a Canadian winter – it seems to me that when the season is so intense something in the heart and the soul must rise to meet it. This is an evocative piece of writing Susanne!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susanne March 25, 2016 / 1:44 pm

      Thank you, Pauline. I’ve offered up this quote before but according to the Norwegians “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” Two winters ago I acquired a proper down coat and Sorel winter boots. I’ve actually enjoyed winter since then. This is not to say I enjoy driving in treacherous conditions or going hip-wading through snow but I have moments outside in the winter that are thrilling. Nothing like a good storm to get the juices flowing!


  3. Cynthia Jobin March 25, 2016 / 1:12 pm

    It snowed this morning, here in Maine, but it was a “spring” snow, the kind that makes the world white for a brief time but is mostly melted by noon. We do usually have a beautiful–though brief—springtime here, crazy with flowering trees and lovely “sweater weather”, but it comes after mud-luscious April, for the whole month of May. I especially liked your thoughts about the sap of maple trees pumping life into March…it’s like that here, too, with that “spring” smell of smoke rising from the sap-boiling sugar shacks and the promise of sweetness to come. I can picture you, out there, with a stethoscope, listening to the heartbeat of the trees….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susanne March 25, 2016 / 1:53 pm

      I’m not giving Ottawa’s springs proper respect. They sound like yours in Maine with wild blooming of everything in a space of 5-10 days and then often enough we launch into hot, summer weather. I haven’t been to a sugar bush in years and years but I do remember the smell. On a trip to London years ago I visited Kew Gardens and in an area with huge old trees (can’t remember what kind of trees – oaks maybe?) headphones were hanging down from branches so you could listen to water flowing from the roots to leaves. It was a gaping-jaw experience!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Andrea Stephenson March 25, 2016 / 3:25 pm

    This is so beautiful Susanne, it makes me envy your spring, even though it may be quick and dirty!


    • Susanne March 25, 2016 / 5:51 pm

      I like the headlong rush of spring towards the summer. It’s really exciting! Thanks for reading, Andrea.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner March 25, 2016 / 4:20 pm

    Stunning, Susanne. Shellacked snow, a giant slushy machine, that Easter meringue look – dang, you know how to paint a memorable picture, both physical and metaphorical.


    • Susanne March 25, 2016 / 5:47 pm

      I always appreciate your comments, Donna. Thank you.

      I wish I’d had a camera with me this morning to take a picture. Everything was so shiny. I pitied the poor birds who wouldn’t be able to find anything on the ground unless a friendly woodpecker decided to try and jackhammer his way down for his neighbours the Robins and the Cardinals. I topped up the bird feeder in case any of them wanted to drop by. Occasionally a cardinal will perch there and visit.


  6. exiledprospero March 26, 2016 / 9:01 am

    There are, alas, no winters here. Vicariously I have been made to hear the crunch of frozen pathways and the operatic singsong of wintry birds–as heard by a Nordic tree doctor–and I am grateful.

    Liked by 1 person

      • exiledprospero March 26, 2016 / 4:58 pm

        Yes, Dr. Sue, says the recalcitrant maple.


  7. Luanne March 28, 2016 / 9:51 am

    I always think that Arizona animals and vegetation have a tinge of harshness and cruelty. But we don’t have a nasty spring thaw (I know how dirty that runoff is) to soften the edges on everything.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Luanne March 28, 2016 / 9:55 am

      WordPress is being mean. It won’t let me like this post.


      • Susanne March 28, 2016 / 10:02 am

        I’ve heard from a couple of readers about weird glitches with WP. When I have a moment, I’ll take a look and see if I messed up a setting somewhere. Thanks for letting me know, Luanne.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Julie Ethan March 28, 2016 / 4:14 pm

    How to write sense of place, drenched with imagery and emotion: what a sparkling example. I could relate to so much of it, both place and emotions. Thanks for sharing.


    • Julie Ethan March 28, 2016 / 4:15 pm

      PS– also wasn’t given an option to LIKE. Said it’s “loading”


      • Susanne March 29, 2016 / 5:16 pm

        Hmm. Weird. I’m going to check my settings.


    • Susanne March 29, 2016 / 5:22 pm

      Thanks, Julie. I’m glad the feeling came through. I was having a happy, contented morning. Since then, we’ve had a ton of rain and now all the shiny meringue is gone and the air is filled with the smell of melting dog poo. The many phases of spring in Canada’s capital.


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