Grits and Purls

Spinning yarns about the grit of life

My husband and I were clearing the driveway for the fourth time in two days, when he suggested that I write about snow. I replied that anything I wrote about snow this winter would not be suitable for a G-rated column. So instead I am writing, with great hope, about the First Robin of Spring.

When I was growing up in the South I remember watching old movies and never quite understanding why little Timmy would always come rushing indoors excitedly crying, “Momma, Momma—I just saw the First Robin of Spring.”

800px-american_robin-27527In Atlanta, robins are around all winter, and spring just happens. The end of February is marked by daffodils and tulips at their peak. Next, the dogwoods, the ornamental pears and cherry trees decorate the landscape with their blossoms, and shortly thereafter the world, and your car, are covered in a fine yellow pollen dust. There is no thaw. There is no “brown”. The gray, wet winter turns into an amazing pastel painting of yellows, pinks and greens, almost overnight.

I waited excitedly for the same magical transition from winter to spring after my first winter in Sioux City, IA. In my ignorance I thought that spring in Sioux City would be dramatic it its debut, since winter had certainly outperformed itself.355px-pasque_flower_28ngm_xxxi_p51429

I asked one of my biology department colleagues when spring would “happen”. She replied that it was happening all around. Just last week she had hiked out at Broken Kettle Grasslands and saw a Pasque flower, the first flower of spring on the prairie. Her eyes glowed as she described her discovery of one delicate white blossom among the brown grass and muck.
Spring in the Midwest is a subtle event, and I have come to appreciate the small signs that bring hope to cabin-fevered humans. On the morning after our 20-inch snowfall in Milton, I heard a chickadee singing “fee-bee, fee-bee” as I carried my daughter into the house. The hopeful singing of this one little bird made me grin.

Now I will listen for the “what cheer” song of the cardinal. I will close my eyes, inhale deeply and imagine the “aroma” of skunk cabbage blooming in a marsh. The male red-winged black birds will soon be sitting on fence posts and cattails, serenading me on my daily commute, and I will be able to admire the tulips and daffodils that emerge from the snow-covered ground.

pseudacris_feriarumIn late March or early April, we will have a 24-hour period when the temperature stays above 50 °F, and I will be able to sit on my porch as the sun is setting and hear frog calls. Probably the first amphibian that will greet me will be the chorus frog, sounding like a thumb running along the teeth of a fine metal comb. The eerie sound of the spring peeper will follow. Buds will begin to swell on trees, and the light green of new growth will color the landscape. And, eventually, I will see the First Robin of Spring. When I hear him sing, I will know that winter is letting go.

Springtime in the Midwest is not the flashy event of the South. It’s subtle, but its beauty comes from that subtlety. I can’t wait to teach my daughter how to identify frogs and toads by their calls and how to find snow fleas around the base of trees on sunny end-of-winter days. We will listen for the “what cheer” of the cardinal and await excitedly the appearance of the red-winged black birds. Eventually, one day, my daughter will come rushing indoors excitedly crying “Momma, Momma—I just saw the First Robin of Spring.” And I will understand.

© 2008 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.

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