You teach your children some fashion sense
And they fashion some of their own
- Gordon Downie

Monday, May 2, 2011

Rites of Spring

Spring is really important when you live in a cold place.

I live in a cold place. Don't get me wrong, there are many things about winter that I really like. Skiing. Hockey. Sledding. Bright blue skies crashing into blinding white fields. Watching my dog bound through snow. Chinooks. Let's just say that I tolerate winter and make the most of it. The things I dislike about winter far outweigh the things I love, but since I try hard to make this blog a positive place, I will spare you a rant.

In central Alberta, there are a few sure signs of spring. They are special to me because they mean that the longer, warmer, gentler days of summer are on their way. Summer has always been extremely important in my life. I have looked forward to at least two months of holidays for as long as I can remember. I chose to spend my life in school, which means that spring means the end of an important cycle for me. School years are cyclical roller coasters of emotion, urgency and commitment. I have always found that no matter what happens throughout a school year, May brings a degree of relief and contentment.

A sure sign of spring is the premature appearance of white legs in public. I wear shorts for most of the summer and I can't wait to throw on a pair of shorts in the spring. Some people certainly push it and wear shorts when they really shouldn't. I went to an Edmonton Oilers game on February 28. It was seriously cold, but we followed a dude wearing a Boston Bruins jersey and shorts into Rexall Place. Too early for me, but as soon as the daily highs reach double digits (Celcius), I can't help myself. Today was the warmest day of the year so far and it was no coincidence that my boys joined me in wearing shorts to school. At the best of times, my legs look like they were borrowed from a furry chicken. When spring arrives, though, they get unveiled.

Birds also tell me that spring is near. As a kid, my favorite book was An Introduction to Ornithology, closely followed by Roger Tory Peterson's Field Guide to Western Birds. The reappearance of geese, swans, raptors and songbirds always lets me know that warmer temperatures must be on the way. We had an unusally high influx of robins in central Alberta this year and it created false expectations throughout the region. When I was eight, a robin built a nest in a spruce tree on our yard and it was just low enough that I could check it every day. That spring, I watched a life cycle unfold from nest construction to the appearance of three baby blue eggs to the first clumsy flights of the young robins. It was magical to me (and I'm pretty sure I was wearing shorts every time I went to check the nest.)

Flowers also tell me that spring is near. We have tulips in our yard that tentatively poke their heads out once the ground warms up. In Alberta, we usually have a May snowstorm that knocks the stuffing out of the first flowers of spring, but I do enjoy looking for them. Last week, on our way home from the final ski trip of the season, we stopped at a small church just west of Morley flats. I love this spot because this church sits in a beautiful foothill location on the banks of the Bow River. I love not only the location, but the style of the history of this church. It is so representative of Alberta's missionary past. We stopped to look around and I was delighted to find crocuses in full bloom. On the acreage where I grew up, the crocuses would usually share their appearance with the robins. It seems odd how a simple flower can lift your spirits, but seeing those crocuses put me in a great frame of mind.

The most telling sign of spring in Alberta, however, is the magical reappearance of people outside. Through the winter, you see some people on the street. Kids playing hockey, the dedicated dog owners, health nuts and postal workers reign supreme once the snow flies. When the weather turns, however, the trails and sidewalks start to get downright crowded. Bikes, rollerblades, skateboards and scooters materialize. Ball diamonds come to life. The streets around soccer fields are lined with cars and the fields are lined with folding lawn chairs. The smell of grilled meat and the sound of lawnmowers fills the air. Recreational vehicles, shop vacs and pressure washers are pulled out of hibernation. There is a collective energy that is hard to explain, but you recognize immediately.

As I thought about this post, I thought of many other signs of spring. Hockey playoffs, flip flops, backyard fires, street cleaning, rabbits that turn from white to brown overnight, floods in Manitoba, my first sunburnt nose of the season, playing rock/paper/scissors to determine who does the spring dog poo pickup, heading out to fish even though I know the fishing won't be great.

I'm calling it, folks. Spring has sprung. What are YOUR rites of spring?


  1. Great post Bunman! You can really develop a topic. I like crocuses but I've never found a patch here around Red Deer . So If you find a patch in the heighborhood, let me know. I won't tell anybody.

  2. Another wonderful are an artist with words.
    Spring.....flipflops!!!!!! Love hearing the songbirds. Pussywillows.
    Just having the windows open and hearing the sounds of the neighborhood. Love the smell and sound of rain. Getting out into the yard and having dirt under my fingernails. Love spring....worship summer!!!!