Late-winter’s march into spring has begun. February gives way, unwillingly, to its successor season. Winter’s clenched teeth have stopped chattering, and unmasked smiles are visible after a two-year pandemic pall. Not wishing to be fooled again, we venture out, hesitantly looking over our shoulders, no false sense of security this time, no fooling us twice. 

The odds seem finally in our favor. Even pandemics come to an end. Winters too. And when those two endings coincide, my, my. That will be some beginning. 

An early turning point: A recent pre-spring, morning-long rain rinses soot from evaporating snow. Temps rise into the 40s. Windy, but the air doesn’t hurt for a change. Promising. Grey turbulence fills the sky, the accumulated cumulus weeping its excess across an exposed landscape, following a month-long coverlet of icy white. 

Bulbs below have been bathed in waves of snowmelt. Snowdrops appear, daffodil shoots pierce the surface, throwing caution to the wind. If not now, when? Frozen ground turns to soft mud, though tiny ice floes still cling to the parkways, like micro-glaciers, dark with dirt.

The chiaroscuro tree provides the first weather report of the day

Rain ministers its cold-water cleansing. The world is awash. Braided rivulets follow curbed channels, streaming toward slotted sewer covers, eager to join the cascading cataract and underground torrent. 

Meanwhile, at the end of every down-sloping branch of tree and bush, droplets hang, suspended between cling and surrender, awaiting the irresistible pull of gravity. Dangling from last year’s decaying crabapple clusters and ambitious buds, hundreds of greyblue droplets shine like tiny ornaments, as if celebrating this new season, freed at last from frigidity’s rigidity.

You could easily miss these liquid adornments, hunched beneath an umbrella, eyes downcast, hurrying to escape the damp affront. An old adage contends, “Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.”

Like these droplets, we too hang between heaven and earth, sickness and health, awaiting our summons, an invitation we can’t refuse, too preoccupied perhaps to notice that the world around us has been refreshed. But afflicted as we are, sick and tired of sickness, it is still possible to re-enter the beautiful world, which is all around, just waiting for us to pay some attention. 

March arrives and we yo-yo between 69 degrees and snow, but it also brings the return of my chiaroscuro tree, a black locust across the street from my bedroom window. All winter, it has languished in the icy shadows as the sun’s arc bent low into the southern sky. Now having climbed back up the horizon, the sun finds the opening between St. Edmund’s church and the old school, and shines on this tree with the biggest flashlight in our corner of the universe, super-luminously tracing every wrinkle in the tree’s patterned bark. But even a light this strong can’t reach the other side, and the locust casts its long shadow down the street, a defiant tail against the growing glow.

Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro — the knife-edge contrast between light and shadow, liberating objects from the dark. Sunlight spills on sidewalk and parkway and street, curb and gutter, nicks and cracks, lava flows of tar and patchwork repairs, illuminating every flaw in pavement’s decay. Light has banished night, and becomes yin to shadow’s yang. 

Mornings trend sunnier now, free of the vaporous build-up that often obscures the afternoon sky. A clean slate, baptized with sinless sunsplash. Give us this day our daily resurrection. Today is yesterday redeemed. 

The chiaroscuro tree beams back, a moon of mirrored light, frontside shining, shadowed tail trailing. The sun, as its arc alters and bends toward solstice, ascends more directly overhead with each new dawn. Tree sap rises with it, reaching limbs’ end, from which blossoms, leaves and seeds will soon spring.

A shining tree in the morning is a welcome portent, nourishing hope, even though the rest of the day has other ideas.

Birds, clearly approving, lift their praise songs, their morning psalm to our warming star.

Daylight Salvation Time is just around the corner. Outdoor dining can’t be far off. Two years ago, we locked down. Now faces emerge from lowered masks. Shadow remains, but light is contending. 

Have we turned the corner?

Will we meet our mask-optional future face to face?

With a little luck, and more than a little common sense, a new day might just be dawning.

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