We have now entered what is perhaps the cruelest time of the year. And no, I'm not talking about the Twins baseball season.
Spring is without a doubt our most disappointing season. No other season can raise your hopes so high nor dash them as quickly and remorselessly as spring.
Summer is associated with hot weather, which it seldom fails to deliver; fall has always succeeded in bringing falling temperatures; and few are displeased if winter doesn't deliver as much cold as promised.
Spring, on the other hand, habitually breaks our hearts. What should be a steady march toward balmier temperatures is often punctuated by sadistic stabs of winterish conditions.
When I was a kid, I fell under the impression that the First Day of Spring was a date certain, a sure thing, a bright line of demarcation that divided the seasons. Boy, was I wrong!
All week long at school I would look forward to the weekend. Plans had been made to play at a pal's house or to have said pal over to our place.
And all during the school week, the weather would be magnificent. Birds would be returning and the glacier-sized snow banks would have shrunk to mere ice cubes. After school, we would crisscross our farmyard and use sharp sticks or the toes of our boots to construct intricate civil engineering projects, telling ourselves that our efforts were preventing a Noah-like flood.
And it never failed that when the much-anticipated Saturday finally arrived, the weather would turn from springlike to Siberian. The sky would become gray and look the way a headache feels. The wind would bellow down from the northwest and fat flakes would fill the air.
So much for our plans! My pal and I had anticipated a day of riding our bikes and tearing around the farmstead and honing our softball skills with a game of catch. None of that was even remotely possible, especially the game of catch. Experience had taught us that cold hands make catching a softball a stinging proposition. Plus, finding a white softball in fresh snow can be tricky.
But there was nothing we could do other than to curse our abysmal luck and that capricious phantasm known as spring.
I am not the only one in our family who thinks that spring can never arrive quickly enough. My wife has been known to spend many a wintertime hour studying garden catalogs and sighing with deep discontent. I guess it could be worse; she could be poring over Jaguar sales brochures.
Her anxiousness for spring has resulted in innumerable premature flower purchases. Drawn in by the allure of a greenhouse, my wife has been known to buy and plant flowers well before the tender sprouts were safe from winter's icy talons. The money we have spent for replanting flowers would equal the GDP of Lithuania.
Many folks look for the return of particular avians as a harbinger of spring. While there are certainly some clear advantages to being the early bird - getting the worm, for instance - there are also substantial risks.
This was clearly illustrated for me one spring. The vernal equinox had just come and gone, and some unbelievably balmy weather had caused the snow to retreat faster than a kid being chased by a mad rooster.
Mobs of robins took up residence in the trees and an unending stream of geese winged north. All signs pointed to an early spring, so I pulled out the grain drill and began to prepare it for the planting season.
Then came the snowstorm, which swept down upon us on a hard north wind, shrieking like the horsemen of the Apocalypse. The day after the storm dawned clear and cold, with blindingly white snowdrifts stretching to the horizon.
As I slogged past the grain drill, I wondered ruefully if spring would ever arrive. Numerous robins peered down at me from snow-laden branches, no doubt thinking much the same thing.
At midmorning, Dad used the loader to make a path to a grain bin. The area he cleaned out was the only black dirt to be found for miles around. Almost as soon as the loader left, the cleared area filled with robins.
Some of the birds hopped around, pausing meaningfully to "listen" for worms. Many of them, however, seemed content to simply sit on the dark soil and soak up the warm sunshine.
I later told my wife about the strange spectacle.
"What does that mean?" she asked.
"I'm not sure,"?I said. "But I do know this: I've never seen so many basking robins!"