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Spring Forward

by Stephen Lautens


April 25, 2003

Mother Nature may be the biggest tease this side of emails promising "personal enhancement", but it looks like she’s finally going to deliver.

Canadians are cautiously scraping the salt from their pant legs, venturing out without an ice scraper in the car, and stripping down to only four layers of clothes. Even politicians are emerging from their winter sleep. Yes - spring is in the air. It’s the time of year when you have to turn your car heater on for the drive to work, but run the air-conditioning for the drive home.

It’s also time for my annual springtime stroll around our tiny back yard to see what has emerged from the snow. We live behind a schoolyard, so the melting ice always reveals a wide selection of baseballs, unwanted lunches and soggy woolen hats thrown there either by kids made to wear them by overly-concerned mothers, or tossed over the fence by unconcerned bullies picking on the weak and nerdy.

The receding snow also gives us a perfect view of the half of the backyard that belongs to the neighbour, in all its junkyard glory. For the past five months the thick white blanket of snow covered up the broken bikes, car parts and weightlifting equipment that we can now see in all their rusting splendor. Without the snow it looks a bit like a prison exercise yard.

During the clean up of our half of the yard I always inspect the few plants we have growing for the first encouraging signs of spring. We planted three lilacs when we bought the house twelve years ago. Back then they barely reached my knee, and now they are jockeying for space and about ten feet high. For a few weeks every year they fill the yard with perfume that makes us the envy of every bumble bee in the neighbourhood.

Next to them are two rose bushes that seem to barely struggle through every winter. One year I asked my dad what he wanted for Fathers’ Day. He was always tough to buy for. It wasn’t that he had everything - he just didn’t need anything. He said: "Buy yourself a rose bush for your backyard." So we did - two of them. Dad died the next February, but ever since, one of those rose bushes blooms every year on the same day - Father’s Day. I don’t think it’s one of those John Edwards "Crossing Over" type things, but still it’s nice.

Back among the weeds, next to the fence, I noticed a little red ball has pushed its way through the grass. It’s one of the most well-travelled rhubarb plants in Canada. It started off its life a quarter century ago in a farmer’s market in rural Quebec. My grandparents bought it for their cottage there. For years I remember it growing next to the chimney and beside the septic tank. My grandfather swore it was the best-tasting rhubarb he had ever had.

In the mid-80s my grandparents were fed up with Quebec’s anti-English government and moved themselves back to English Canada. They left a lot of things behind, but on the day they left my grandmother dug up the rhubarb and drove it across the border. It sat in the garden outside their new home in Ontario for another ten years before it was dug up again and moved to a pot on the deck of their retirement home. They lost their deck to new construction, and I was asked if I could give the rhubarb a home. Every spring since then it comes out after the snow clears, and we get at least one pie out of it.

Spring is great, but our only problem is that if we ever move, the back yard is going to have to come with us.

© Stephen Lautens 2003

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