Spring arrives...in its own sweet time

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Spring arrived March 6, right on time. By the time you read this, however, spring will have likely departed. It will arrive again?#34;and depart again?#34;several more times, probably clear into May.

Spring is a reluctant, restless guest of honor in Oak Park and River Forest. Its arrival is as inexorable as it is unsteady. Some years, it seizes the stage by itself, but usually it shares the bill with winter, the freeloader, which always overstays its welcome.

Spring has stage fright. It is shy and unassuming, and just about the time it finally settles in, summer is there to tap it on the shoulder and give it the hook.

The first signs of spring are easy to overlook, but you can find them, even in the dreary grey of a frigid early March. A lovely patch of snow drops blooming in Austin Gardens, witch hazel bushes blossoming in front of the Frank Thomas house where Forest Avenue bends into Ontario Street, crocuses on the south side of the rowhouse block across the street from the 19th Century Club, the sun positioning itself at the end of every street as it sets, midway on the horizon, taming its bi-polar tendencies momentarily in favor of balance, giving us 12 full hours of daylight.

But Sunday, the signs quickly proliferated as the thermometer climbed: Hands visible without gloves, jackets unzipped, then wrapped around waists like shed skins.

The Austin Gardens squirrels nosed through leaves, scouring the dirt, acting as if they could remember where they buried their nut stashes last November. The earth is soft with the release of frost, moist to the brink of muddy, pregnant with resurrected root systems, vital vegetation, and God knows how many awakened worms, sifting through the spongy soil.

Overhead, the tips of trees are virtually exploding with complexity, reproducing matter exponentially. The breeze has a hint of tenderness in it, following its months-long pique of hostility. Dog delirium is rampant as smells, unimaginable to us, swell their nostrils. External reality is the ultimate canine entertainment medium.

The squirrel guy arrives in his khaki vest and begins feeding his bushy-tailed disciples like St. Francis of Assisi. A young woman wheels what looks to be her brother who has what looks to be Cerebral Palsy, into the clearing, ties the family dog to a tree, and sets up a small picnic. Sharp, nasal, high-pitched voices pierce the quiet, as kids slide past on bikes and scooters.

Hurry has gotten the hint and left the premises?#34;for the most part?#34;some of the walkers continuing to set a brisk pace. A Frisbee foursome forms a foursquare. It flutters, wobbles, and dives like the proverbial wounded duck.

The only thing missing are the sandhill cranes high overhead streaming past on thermals, trumpeting their arrival. Spring, of course, is never so flamboyant with its passive/aggressive, approach/avoidance, come-see/gone-saw style.

Spring, I have learned, must be taken on its own terms. It does no good to expect more or demand consistency. It is a creative genius, subject to its own laws and flaws. It won't be rushed. It refuses to conform.

I have learned to expect only one thing of spring: its inevitability. I know it will arrive ... and depart ... and arrive ... and depart. I no longer take it personally.

We want spring ever after, the same way we want love. But spring and love are first cousins, romantics of the worst sort and therefore totally unpredictable and unaccountable.

Spring will be more glorious than last Sunday. There will be days that make us positively giddy with delight. But it might take a while. The first official day of spring is 11 days away, but the calendar and the seasons are rarely in synch.

Spring will arrive again, but Sunday was a good start.

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