In pre-dawn greyness this morning, I glanced out the window, realizing snow or ice on the ground. wasn't visible anywhere on our street or in backyards. Spring is edging its way, slowly and tentatively, into Pittsburgh! After this winter, with its bitter, bitter cold and many storms, people are gladly seeking the signs that Spring really is here. It was nice, when I went to the grocery store this afternoon, to see that no one was wearing a parka, and even nicer not to have to bother with boots, scarves, hats, and layers of cloth....although I did think the kid wearing a pair of flip-flops and shorts was rushing things a bit.
There are the usual western Pennsylvanian signs: pot-holes--a bumper crop this year; you can tell where the road crews were working last summer, because so far they are largely umbleminshed--; people talking about March Madness, hoping Pitt makes it to the Final Four this time; pre-Easter decorations popping up in the stores and in a few yards and stoops (I never saw an egg tree until I was travelling from my native New Jersey to northwestern PA when I was in college in the 70s). Black squirrels are frisking over the Victorian rooves across the street and next door, waving at us to come out and play. So many robins live in the East year round now, I don't count them as harbingers anymore. Instead, I tune into the National Aviary's falconcam at Pitt in hopes of seeing the fledglings (http://www.aviary.org/cons/falconcam_cl.php).
I think that we all have our personal touchstones for each season. Mine is a little vase, less than 6 inches high, that sits in the kitchen cupboard next to the sink with the glasses and a few small ptichers. This vase has a round faded gold-painted base narrowing to a shaft of alternately striped clear and gold, slightly flared at the rim, that belonged to my mother. I can just remember giving her wilted wildflowers I had picked from the Forever Field to put in it when I was a toddler. Later, it held the two kinds of spring flowers I miss the most, and lacking, feel homesick for today.
Every Spring, Daddy and I would go to Stephens State Park, on the edge of our hometown, Hackettstown, NJ, to a secret spot near the hill above the river, and brush aside last fall's dead leaves, bleached and crackly-brown, to pick a few of the very best wild purple violets. They would smell so good! Dad would find one or two white ones, prized for their rarity. We were always careful to take just enough for the vase, and to cover up the ones we left behind--and really, the ones we brought home seemed to be more aromatic than any of the pots of African ones she tended so carefully throughout the year.
Out in our back yard, under the snowball bush, there would be grape hyacinths and delicate spring beauties. Later, there would be lilies-of-the-valley, another old-fashioned flower I never seem to see here. As a girl, walking to and from piano lessons at Mrs. Green's up near Centenary College (then for Young Women), I would pass big old Victorian houses that had beds of them between the houses' fromt walls and the edge of the town's slate sidewalks. In the rain, the waxy white of the flowers would gleam like pearls amid the emerald leaves, and I could almost taste the fragrance, it was so heady. "Muguets de bois," Mother would say dreamily when they appeared in the vase. I never saw lilles-of-the-valley in the woods, but somehow the French name captured their almost-mysterious allure for both of us.
I long for wild violets and lilies for my little striped vase, but florists don't carry them here. Is the vase empty? Of course not; it fills with memories every time I look at it. I will fill my craving for spring flowers with daffodils and narcissi, bold tulips, and the joy of lilacs. I'll delight in magnolias and blossoming fruit trees. and try to explain to my husband again the difference between them and dogwood.
And I will try something new, something that comes from my roots, growing upward from my varied past experiences, present interests and current concerns, in the spirit of Spring, here and elsewhere. What are your signs of Spring?