Spring Equinox

The Compass - - OPINION -

My mother is stand­ing in front of the house wear­ing a hat and a win­ter coat over a skirt that reaches be­low the tops of her wool-lined knee boots. She is catch­ing her breath. The leather gloves she wears hide the white spots on her knuck­les. They are caused by the firm grip she has on the han­dle of the axe she has been wield­ing for the last hour. She is us­ing the axe to break up the thick ice on the path lead­ing to the front door of the house. She wants to beat up ev­ery bit of ice and throw it onto the melt­ing snow where the strength­en­ing spring sun, which has just started peek­ing over the top of the house, is strik­ing the ground in the mid­dle of the yard.

She wants to bur­row right down into the earth. She wants to drive win­ter away.

Be­cause the front door of the house faces north, this is where the bulk of the snow gath­ers. It ac­cu­mu­lates here through­out the sea­son, un­af­fected by those sunny late win­ter days that warm the south side of the house and make short work of the snow banks there.

To make mat­ters worse for my mother, the north side of the house is where my brother and I throw the snow as we earn our al­lowance by shov­el­ling the walk. The bank of snow that grows ever big­ger from Novem­ber on is di­rectly out­side the kitchen win­dow.

In early win­ter it is in­vis­i­ble from in­side, but by the end of Novem­ber it has climbed into view. De­pend­ing on the year’s snow­fall, faster or slower, the bank grows re­lent­lessly un­til my mother, barred in­side the kitchen, must stand on tip-toe to see the road in front of the house.

She wants to es­cape the prison of win­ter. Break out.

She can see what is hap­pen­ing out­side the kitchen win­dow, but the progress that spring is mak­ing in driv­ing away the en­emy isn’t fast enough. She can’t wait. She can’t re­sist the com­pul­sion to get out­doors with the axe and mop up the strag­glers.

When I think back over 50 years to my breath­less mother stand­ing, axe in hand, tak­ing a spell, ques­tions come to my mind. Why didn’t my brother and I throw the snow away from the house when we’re shov­el­ling? Why didn’t we throw it as far out into the yard as our lit­tle arms could man­age? Out into the yard, clear of the shadow of the house, where it would have a chance to melt a bit from time to time dur­ing the long win­ter and dis­ap­pear sooner when Spring came. I’m think­ing it might be be­cause of the shrubs my mother had planted be­low the kitchen win­dow. I seem to re­mem­ber the idea was to pile snow on the shrubs to pro­tect them from the cold. When the bank had formed a hard shell it would also ward off ici­cles fall­ing from the eaves above.

An­other ques­tion, and I am sure you are ask­ing this one too: Why was my mother chop­ping the ice when her two sons were avail­able? The short an­swer is we weren’t al­lowed. We were old enough to shovel snow but an axe is a danger­ous thing and ac­cord­ing to my par­ents shouldn’t be wielded by an 11 or an 8-year-old, par­tic­u­larly if they are stand­ing on slip­pery ice.

The longer an­swer is that by this time of year my mother, like so many Cana­di­ans, has had enough of win­ter. She likes the beginning of win­ter when the first snowflakes be­gan to fall and out­line the empty limbs of trees bare of leaves. She loves the way the deep snow drapes it­self over bumps in the land­scape and drifts into sen­su­ous curves, cast­ing deep blue shad­ows in the low an­gle sun of the win­ter sol­stice. But by the time the spring equinox fi­nally rolls around she has had enough. Enough of putting on and tak­ing off boots, hats, coats, scarves. Enough of frozen fin­gers, toes and noses. Enough al­to­gether. And be­ing a woman who was used to tak­ing things into her own hands, and young enough to do so, she took action. She wanted to do it her­self, no­body else would do. Back then in the black and white im­age of my 11-year-old mem­ory she was only too ready to pick up an axe and strike a blow to an­ni­hi­late win­ter. Strike a blow and then an­other and an­other un­til win­ter was van­quished and sent pack­ing in­clud­ing each and ev­ery snowflake down to the very last.

When I grew old enough to swing an axe, I too took plea­sure in the solid thunk that ac­com­pa­nied a large chunk of ice separat­ing it­self from a thick slab. It made me happy to see the bare ground re­vealed be­neath and to know that Spring was near. But not like her. I would look up to see my mother watch­ing from the kitchen win- dow. She was con­tent to let me swing the axe and clear the way to the next sea­son. She wasn’t get­ting any younger for this sort of ac­tiv­ity and it was proper work for a boy. All the same, there was some­thing in her ex­pres­sion that be­trayed a deeply in­grained long­ing to use her own phys­i­cal force to send win­ter pack­ing.

On the 20th of March at 11:44 the Spring Equinox ar­rives and win­ter will be of­fi­cially over. Of course, it will make a few coun­ter­at­tacks, some of them ag­gres­sive, but they will be short-lived. My mother may not have driven it away this year, but wheel­ing in her chair along the side­walks in her neigh­bour­hood she will re­joice in its pass­ing.

Wel­come to Spring.

Peter Pick­ers­gill is a writer and car­toon­ist, who re­sides in Sal­vage, Bon­av­ista Bay. His col­umn ap­pears on this page ev­ery sec­ond week and re­turns March 31. He can be reached at: pick­ers­gill@mac.com

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.