There is a time when the year turns. The winter has grown old. The snow has piled high, layer upon layer, its strata revealing blizzards and heavy snowfalls. The roadsides have piles of snow scooped high by snowploughs.
People begin to turn toward the sun, marking its progress, its growing brightness, its growing warmth. Old instincts buried deep within our brains begin to shake themselves from drowsiness.
We have begun to respond to the first indications of spring. They are already there at the beginning of March. The hard ice created by being walked over, slippery, treacherous, melts around the edges, become soft and ragged. There are pools of dark water in low spots on the roads. There is the sound of car tires splashing through the puddles. There are children wearing brightly colored rubber boots stamping in the puddles.
At night Winter reasserts itself, freezes once again the water that appeared during the day, hardens the surface of the snowbanks that had softened with sunlight. The snowbanks, once a pristine white are now grey and black and the snow melts and the dirt that has collected gathers on the surface. What were graceful, curved, fluted snowbanks collapse upon themselves, begin the process of flooding the fields and ditches.
The birds are bolder; leave the perches where they have huddled through the winter. They sing to the strengthening sun.
People walk over the snow covered sidewalks, their parkas undone, their heads bare. They will retreat again and again for Winter does not give up so easily. Wind and driving snow, hoar frost thick on the trees, ice, hard as iron will return.
But down by the harbour people get out of their cars and trucks to look at their boats secured against the winter, cocooned in plastic, raised on wooden beams and oil drums. On the ice the work that must be done for the coming summer speeds up for jagged cracks appear, the snow cover softens on the lake.
The trees still remain unmoved, their branches brittle. Not yet, not yet the bursting pussy willows, the leafing buds, the growing tips. Not yet, but soon.
In ancient times, the sun circled around the earth, the people feared that winter would never end, that spring would never come and when it did appear, they sacrificed a man and maiden to their gods, their blood a sacrifice to spring and growing green that would feed them with crops of grain and fruit.
And our ancestors, not so long ago, huddled together seeking warmth in shanties along Lake Winnipeg, waited out each cold day, marking each few minutes longer the sun lingered in the sky and when the green world appeared once more had hope there’d be food to fight off hunger, to mend their scurvy laden bodies, stop the bleeding of their gums, warm their bones. For them the lengthening days were life saved from winter death.
Today, we know the turning of the globes and need no blood to greet the spring. But still we shake off winter’s indolence, enjoy the warming sun, make plans, imagine once again the blooming flowers, our boats upon the water.