Sensing Spring

New branch growth / Darker than Green

I smelled Spring today.

It’s incredible the things you forget you’re missing during the long pause of winter. The things you learn to live without when you have no other choice.

I smelled Spring today during my walk through the park. It smelled of damp dirt.

It wasn’t a spectacular smell. Not bad. Just normal. But noteworthy in its ordinariness. It hinted at possibility, at the changes to come. At the tiny sprouts preparing to emerge from newly thawed ground. Waiting, like tiny toddler dancers. Jittering in the wings, poised to take the stage at their spring showcase.

Spring city lawn with flowers / Darker than Green

Callery Pear tree in bud / Darker than Green

I saw Spring on the branches of the Purple Leaf Plum tree behind our apartment. Its bare, dusty branches bejeweled with tiny round buds, sitting quietly on forked arms reaching up toward the warming sun. The tips of the nearby Callery Pear are likewise adorned and will soon burst into musky white blooms.

I saw Spring reflected in the curb puddles and the snowmelt and the stillwater collected in last Summer’s plastic planters. I saw it in the return of gardening displays in brightly lit retail spaces. Lime green gloss varnish cover stock and double walled cardboard seedpack towers. Mass-produced eyecatchers reminding us it’s almost time to put our hands back in the ground.

New spring plants / Darker than Green

Crocuses in bloom / Darker than Green

I heard Spring this morning in the chirps of the sideyard sparrows and singing wrens. In the sweet call of the bright red cardinal that’s made its way back to our tree. Or maybe it never flew south at all, just huddled in the cracks between roof shingles on the coachhouse, waiting out winter’s loose handful of flurries.

I heard Spring in the sounds of waking up, sounds drifting up from one floor down. A deadbolt’s loud clunk and the squeal of a back door creaking open: hopeful neighbors testing the air to see if it’s warm enough for the season’s first porch-bound beer.

Spring sky / Darker than Green

I felt Spring in the sliver of warm light that slipped through the gap in my bedroom curtains. Resting on my face, incrementally earlier and stronger than the morning before. In the mild dash of wind that slid through my jacket zipper while waiting on the train platform high above Fullerton Avenue. In the marked increase of humidity in the air, and the unfamiliar touch of dew that leaped from greening grass and soaked through unsealed boot gussets.

Spring growth / Darker than Green

Winter flowers in Chicago / Darker than Green

The way it usually goes in Chicago is: Spring feels very far away for a long time. You walk through the entirety of winter, nose buried behind scarf and collar, eyes locked to the space directly in front of you. You whine for warmth, but you don’t dare look for it on the ground and in the trees. Until one day, it’s suddenly just there. A green leaf poking up from beneath withered mulch. A spray of purple growth on an old yellow lawn. A pop of color where there once was none. An open door.

Soon there will be bright green tree flowers hovering high overhead, creamy magnolia blossoms, and long legged tulips. We’ll bask in the sudden abundance with feasts of snow peas garlic scapes asparagus fava beans ramps. Leaves of every shape and size and texture will push through hardened bark and twist and turn toward the sun. Bulky raindrops will announce their arrival with heavy taps at double-paned glass, searching wildly for roots to wet.

But for now, we’re just at the beginning. And I’m enjoying our early Spring with as many senses as I can.

New growth in the community garden / Darker than Green

Callery Pear tree in Chicago / Darker than Green

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