At Large: Spring whispers

Run under AT LARGE standing head

Spring whispers

By Doug Cabral

A small gale slams against the slider and, bending the old, weakened aluminum frame in an arc, finds its unruly way into my room. The easterly drives the thick rain before it in gusts. The harried rain sounds like ice against the glass. Despite accepting that the weather is, once again, atrocious, the racket is nevertheless too great to ignore, and one looks up startled by each gust.

You know it’s spring. I know it too. Spring whispers its presence. It is moving west, heading up-Island as it does each year. If this northeaster will only let up. If the jet stream will only shift so that it’s not catching every low moving west to east across the country, larding it with rain, and giving it a ride up the East Coast. If only Canada would contribute one of those tenacious highs to block for us, ay, wouldn’t that give spring a chance to make some noise?

Sure, we’ve had reports of pinkletinks, snowdrops, and crocuses. The interest in reporting these meaningful annual advances stems from the natural competitive nature of Vineyarders, from their outdoor lives, and from their sheer desperation for winter to end. Megan Freitas, explaining this week how she managed to get through the long, cold, snowy winter, said, “Miraculously.” Amen.

In fact, it could be that the surest sign of spring here is the tanned face on your neighbor who, huddled in his thin, azure blue golf jacket, realizes he made a dreadful mistake returning from his winter home in Florida for Easter and town meeting season. Next year, he’ll wait till May 1.

Here it is Easter, but the road is washed out, and there are ducks paddling in the puddle that now extends across it. The back yard is a swamp, and you can feel the cedar roof shingles eroding in the pounding rain.

Generally, spring is earlier in Vineyard Haven than in Chilmark. It may surprise you to learn that on the same April afternoon it can be early spring in Vineyard Haven and late winter in Chilmark, but it shouldn’t. It is no more remarkable than those common summer days when Aquinnah and Chilmark (indeed the whole South Shore) are buried in a fog thick as a wet wool sock, while the horn at West Chop Light is silent.

There are lots of theories about why these small differences in geography should be accompanied by noticeable differences in climate. People say it is on account of the wind. There is more wind in Chilmark than in Tisbury (doubtful), and windy places are colder. At the same time, the theory has it, there is more hot air in Tisbury, and it loafs around pestering the crocuses and daffodils, which consequently jump up in equinoctial agitation.

Or they say it has to do with personality. In Chilmark, folk are peculiar, reserved, crabbed, and unapproachable, according to this hypothesis. The human chill slows the gathering spring. By contrast, in Tisbury, folks are bubbly, antic and warm-hearted. The municipal wackiness gives spring a boost. I have my doubts.

I am not an expert on these things, and I have no opinion about the relative merit of any intellectual propositions that might explain what is going on. Nevertheless, I can tell you that the signs of spring’s accelerating east to west progress slap you right in the face.

Down-Island, people at the post office want to know if your boat is ready for the water. (It is not.) They ask, got the cover off yet? Got the bottom painted? Yes (a mistake I now realize), and no. It was the dead of winter yesterday, and suddenly everyone is in a hurry. That’s because a week ago there was one 60-degree day.

Or if they are gardeners, they want to know whether you’ve planted anything yet. Got your garden tilled? Spread the lime yet? Spread the fertilizer? Got your peas in?

Up-Island, as regards spring, there are fewer promising signs. When you get home after dark and the headlights pick out herds of rabbits zigzagging through the perennial garden, you may conclude that spring is on the way. When you notice the old basketball and the broken outdoor thermometer and the worthless deer repellent that spent the winter in those gardens, and it occurs to you that it’s time to clean out the beds, that’s a sign.

I say, take your signs where you find them, and remember, if you can hear yourself think despite the din the rain and wind are making on the other side of the window, Easter, just like spring, is about faith.