“Earth knows no desolation. She smells regeneration in the moist breath of decay.”
– George Meredith, 1828-1909, English novelist and poet
Is there any better metaphor for faith than spring? Whether your faith rests in God, Nature, Love or Self. The proof that life emerges after strife — indeed, because of it — is ever present in the warmth of spring.
Typically, the pinnacle of my day is a very small thing. Like putting my toes in the grass for the first time since autumn.
I nearly missed the park, and when I saw it, I took the last turn into the parking lot. It was a one-way in the wrong direction, but the park was nearly abandoned and no one honked or even noticed. The breeze blew chilled across the icy lake, but the sun was warm between dark blue clouds. Ducks’ wings whistled overhead, and something splashed in the open water along the shore.
Drawn to connect, I smiled an impish grin. I looked left, right, then back, before I slipped off my first leather shoe. The other shoe and both socks followed. In seconds I was barefoot in the park; skin to skin with Mother Earth. The ground was cold and the moisture seeped up to make mud on my heels. But it felt real, like putting my face against the rain, or catching snowflakes on my tongue.
It wasn’t too long before I was back in traffic headed home to make dinner.
But I was reminded that sometimes it’s the last turn in the wrong direction that brings us down the right path.
It’s that time of year when we dream of new life. Tulips breaking the ground, their faces to the sun. Seeds bursting open with tender roots and delicate shoots. Tiny blades of grass finding their way through last year’s thatch.
Ah, the lawn.
That bane of man’s existence. That symbol of status or flag of defeat.
This picture undoubtedly elicits one of two reactions in you:
“Look at the pretty little purple flowers!”
“Sweet Mother of God! That’s Creeping Charlie!”
If you are in the first group, bless your little heart. Although pervasive, they are pretty.
If you are in the second group, I’m guessing you’re stocking up on herbicides as we speak. I’ve stopped buying herbicides and fertilizers. I buy compost and grass seed. I rarely water. I’m gradually planting the yard with flowers and shrubs that need little care, and adding raised gardens. Fresh vegetables eaten right out of the garden? Now there’s a symbol of status for you. Ideally, I’d like to have just enough grass to sink my toes into while I sip a glass of wine.
As for Creeping Charlie and dandelions, those reliable messengers of spring, they’ll feed the bees until everything else catches up.
It occurs to me that those living closer to the equator may not have the luxury of appraising neighbors on methods of snow removal. By closer I mean closer than one of the northern-most United States of America. Mention you are from Minnesota, and people immediately conjure images of wolf-like dogs racing across an open tundra, a parka-clad rider mushing them on in search of the next meal of blubber.
Yeah, it’s something like that. Only I’m in my Dodge Neon, the dog has positioned herself on the center console looking out over the dashboard, and I’m on my way to the supermarket. Sure it’s cold, and there’s snow on the roads. It’s Minnesota. It’s winter. Get over it. The minute a flake falls from the sky, everyone wants to know what the roads are like. My answer? “Eh . . it’s winter.”
And with the season comes the practiced art of snow removal. Minnesotans have been removing snow for centuries. Technically, the snow is not removed. You can’t remove snow unless you bring it inside, melt it and flush it down the drain. No, we move it. From here to there. Sometimes, we have so much snow to move that we scoop it up in front loaders, empty it into dump trucks and haul it away. I’m not sure where they go with it, but if it were me I’d haul it to California.
While snow in the city comes with parking bans, tow trucks and impound fees, in the suburbs it’s all about what your neighbor is doing. Why should winter be different than any other season? As soon as the lawn is covered, and they can no longer judge the green of your grass, they will begin to analyze the white of your driveway.
Technically speaking, if one does not remove the snow from one’s driveway, the snow will eventually remove itself. However, if your intention is to leave the snow until it melts in the spring, after driving over it and the fluctuations in temperature, you’re going to end up axle-deep in frozen ruts going nowhere fast. I think all Minnesotans can agree that some amount of snow movement is necessary.
You have several options, offering various stages of effort and cost. You can buy a shovel or hire a kid to shovel you out. You can buy a snowblower, or hope a neighbor brings one over. Some people put a plow on the front of their truck and not only plow out their place, but make money plowing out others. My dad used to take out his four-wheel drive with the plow on the front and drive around looking for little old ladies shoveling their own driveway or families stuck in the ditch. His pay was the smile on their face.
Once suburbanites have chosen our option of snow removal, we are obligated to assess our neighbors’ methods and motivation. It is safe to say that a homeowner can be accurately labeled by the driveway he keeps.
The Gambler: This guy checks the forecast first. He may leave up to three inches lay if he thinks it will melt by 2 p.m. tomorrow. If the stuff is still falling, he gauges the weight per shovelful, duration of snowfall, and rate of accumulation before making his plan of attack.
The Sloth: This one owns a snowblower, but will wait to see if it melts first. He is often seen three days later carelessly snow-blowing ice chunks toward windows and small children.
The OCD: He is out there with his shovel as soon as a dusting appears. Unfortunately, as soon as he finishes the bottom of the driveway, the top is already accumulating snow again, and he can’t possibly go inside until the whole thing is clear. You might want to bring over a cup of hot chocolate or a small meal.
The Over-Acheiver: You can spot this star student by the way he not only shovels his sidewalk and driveway, but his effort extends to parts of the yard, and even into the street. Where other houses’ curbs slope naturally to the street, his is cut at a 90-degree angle exactly at curb depth.
The Good Samaritan: This guy can often be spotted down the street, snow-blowing out every plow drift along the way. The plow drift, as Northerners know, is what the city plow deposits at the end of your driveway after you have meticulously cleared it out. The Good Samaritan wears a frost-encrusted smile accompanied by a frozen-snot icicle mustache.
The Homeschooler: You can spot this one by the number of shovels lined up in various sizes outside the door. While the shovels are in use, please slow to 15 mph as children will be present.
Me? I’m inside huddled next to the space heater. The chimneys across the street are emitting a steady flow of horizontal steam, communicating a cold, steady wind against a sunny blue sky. I can hear the rhythmic scrape of Bubba’s shovel, his black toque bobbing occasionally above the window sash. He finally invested in a snowblower this year. And as Murphy’s Law dictates, I think we can forecast a fairly light year for the stuff, rarely dropping enough to start it up.
There is a secret I’ve been harboring (yes, another one). I’ve been having an emotional affair with sumac. Not any particular sumac. Just sumac in general. I didn’t mean to. It just sort of happened. What started as fascination, quickly blossomed into something much more serious. Once I brought out my camera, it was clear this was not a casual relationship. Please try not to think any less of me. I make this public confession as a first step toward my healing process. What follows is a photo-medley journaling my liaison over the past year.
Thank you for hearing me out. And thank you to all those who have stood by me during this obsession that has plagued me. I think primarily of Bubba who has stood by me, literally, waiting for me to take yet another photo of a sumac. He never complains, just waits while I find just the right angle. He would, I’m sure, appreciate my mentioning that he has a particularly good eye for a photo opportunity, and has no problem swerving off the road and turning the car around to capture it! What a guy!