April 21, 2013

North Cairn: No shaking real signs of spring

Over the long weekend, before the neighborhoods filled up with students on break from school, the dominant sounds and movements were what we mostly think of as silence and stillness: nature breaking out of winter and hurrying into spring.

I noticed it right away when I arrived at the little cottage I rent on a bay south of Maine. Though I had left early, my tires crackling the sprinkling of crackling sleet still on the ground from the night before, the cold dissipated almost imperceptibly as the sun came up and I drove down the coast, past Kittery and Portsmouth. By the time I was south of Boston it felt as if I had traveled across weeks of time into a different climate zone.

I had meandered in my travel, taking the long way around the day, arriving as evening was coming on. I opened the car door to the trilling peal of the peepers in the wetlands, a reliable sign of spring recorded in my catalog of memories here. The songbirds were still at it -- working the landscape for food and mates and nesting sites -- though dark was headed their way. I could pluck them out of the gloaming like tones struck by a bell choir -- the robins' cheery trill, red-winged blackbirds guarding their nests with territorial calls that sound like a rusty gate hinge, the cardinals' unmistakable measure of a mate, who-it, who-it, whit, too, too, too.

I did all the usual weekender's tasks, hastily clearing the car of more items than needed to be packed for such a brief stay, unloading groceries that I wouldn't need and that would be repacked in 48 hours for the trip back home to Maine.

The dog sat down in the gravel next to the mailbox, her sentinel seat, and resumed watch over the little world of the bog that was carrying on just fine without us. But we had migrated back, like the blackbirds, and had our assigned place. So in thanks and out of habit, we occupied it.

A neighbor saw me doing my metronomic walk from the car down to the bog and into the cottage, then swinging back up the pebble path to the street. After a time my cadence was slowing, my work almost done, when the phone rang, and she welcomed me back with an offer of dinner. By then it was almost fully dark.

I attended to the last few duties, mixing canned and dry dog food for the retriever's meal, checking the basement for any residual spring flooding -- there was none -- and smoothed the wrinkles of the day out of my cotton blouse, topped my tousled outfit off with a sweater and strode out under the soft glow of a single street light to the porch a few doors down the road.

It wasn't until morning, when I had to lug a load of laundry outside and around the cottage to the bulkhead that opens to the cellar, that I got a full sense of spring setting things in order once again after the long cold winter. I had loaded the washer and left it churning, making my way out of the basement, when I noticed that something on the far wall was out of whack. Where only garden tools lay in a horizontal plane, something vertical was poking upward.

(Continued on page 2)

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