Up early and heading to the lakefront on the first Saturday morning of spring. Primavera, Printemps, first season, my favorite. The field at Columbus Park is silver with frost, but the March sun, climbing the blue, cloud-free vault, will soon coax that glaze into dew. For now, though, the sun is a challenge to eastbound drivers and cannot be ignored as it assaults eyes not yet fully awake.
Downtown, sunlight squeezes through high-rise canyon crevices and shines selectively on walls and windows, show-offing art deco adornment and terra cotta flourish. Full-length buildings reflect off the rippled mirrors of glass towers. Streets animate lightly with trucks delivering, dollies weaving ’round morning people, who extend coffee cups before them like torches, searching for an honest man. Early walkers, slow and shedding drowsiness, work their way into busyness and toward businesses. Joggers glide past, frozen torsos riding rhythmic legs, arms pumping in synchronized sympathy.
One delighted street solicitant loves me after I tender a Lincoln from my temporarily Washington-less wallet. One vested litter sweeper invests remnants of yesterday’s carelessness in his hinged dust pail with its endlessly hungry maw.
Back home, the mid-morning sun gathers strength and becomes a riveting floodlight, bathing every crevice of tree bark, every street imperfection, every grain of every brick, turning eyes into super-organs, seeing with an intensity forgotten since childhood, catching the flaming plume of a cardinal, whose sharp, clear, clarion call sounds increasingly desperate. Someone? Anyone? It’s spring! Richness of red proliferates. Lots of cardinals. Lots of cardinals about to be born.
Grass is still mostly wheat-chaff beige, but green shoots multiply, soon to overwhelm, a tsunami of growing.
By early afternoon, a parade prevails on the sidewalks of Oak Park Avenue, cabin fever driving inmates out of doors, blinking in disbelief, breaking out shorts, even while donning a parka with fur-lined hood protecting features from a breeze that lacerates. The chronically underdressed shiver in short sleeves, wishfully willing the season further along.
Owners walk their dogs; smartphones walk their owners. A woman sits on a bench in Mills Park reading, sight unseen for many a month. Recreants bask on blankets, the sun high overhead, no more of this tilting to the southern hemisphere, creeping north of due west as it sets, beyond equinox, more daylight now than night.
Marion Street sidewalk chalkboard announces “Spring Arrivals” at Sugarcup Trading in pastel chalk, just across the street bricks from Sugar Fixe. Sweet Street. The Munch board urges passersby to “Eat Love,” perhaps a tad too metaphorical, especially for passing shoppers babbling in Russian. Matter of Style announces, “Now booking for Prom and Graduation,” not that far off. Three months past Christmas, the year is turning. A chalked Easter Rabbit perches above “Scratch ‘n’ Sniff is for everybunny.” The smell of BBQ wafts from Q’s, as it does all year, but now portending summery savories.
Outside more than in today, I stick to the sunny side of the street, shade being winter’s accomplice still. Soon enough, shade will be summer’s sanctuary and sun the accomplice. For now, sunshine draws and shade repels. Sitting on a bench in front of Wise Cup, a woman tilts her face to the sun, eyes closed, recklessly soaking up the abundance.
The Austin Gardens ice rink lies in tattered ruins, testament to evaporation. Vehicle sounds recede and bird chatter moves forefront in this urban oasis. Charred ground covers forested floor and burnt-leaf aroma hangs in the air. Winged revelers celebrate the passing frigidity and arrival of healing humidity. Earth awakens, too, unstoppable daffodil spears piercing the softening crust, eager to join the party started by snow drops and crocus petals in the parade of blossoming.
As temps flower into the 50s, Scoville Park’s playground reaches full capacity, accompanied by the sour song of swing sets and bellowings of liberated delight. One girl high-fives mom with every upswing. The park becomes a giant recess after being cooped in class all winter. Bikes glide the downslope sidewalk; a brilliantly colored kite with graceful tail ascends, then crashes unceremoniously to earth. Dad and wheelchair-bound daughter survey the surroundings, as girls turn cartwheels on the turf.
Spring’s verdant prime is still a month away, but this is better, the frozen months finally, finally, finally surrendering its nightlike monopoly, giving way so stingily to first, very first stirrings of what must unfold in its own deliberate, undeniably undeniable time. The time for vigilant watchers to walk, hands held behind, driving nothing forward except their un-frenzied feet. Nothing rushed or over-desired or hoped for. All fulfilled before our eyes and nose and ears and tender touch.
From deep despair of ceaseless winter, we are granted yet another spring, one in a long line of marvels, chastising our every doubt, more miraculous with every year.
Tomorrow will be raw and rainy again because spring favors the plants.
It doesn’t aim to please.
Though, sometimes, it does.