A week ago, Saturday, March 28: 5 above zero at daybreak. Clear sky; no wind; cold. The dogs go out at full bore then stop like they’ve hit a wall. Turn back to me, eyes saying “What the…?” They’re back inside in short order.
I feed the dogs, make coffee, turn on the computer and check weather history. Two months earlier, January, the coldest month of a typical year and the 28th dawned at 22; above zero.
I think: What’s this world coming to? I wonder about the essential absurdity of it all. But not for long; there are no answers to the Why? of weather. It comes, it goes, it brings of it what it will.
The sun is higher when I walk to work but it’s still cold, winter-weather cold. Concrete feels harder when it’s cold, I swear it does, and the sidewalks on this day are harsh. I have my hands in my pockets, collar pulled up; I’m not very enthused about the turn in the weather. Feels like winter on a day that should feel like spring.
Then a sound, no, not a sound, a song. A song high above, clear and lilting and pure; bird-song; robin. I stop stock still and look up, up to the thin branches dark against the sky, up to where I think the song comes from. And I see the robin; rusty-orange breast catching the low angle of morning light, that perfect, rich light that photographers love in the hour after dawn. That light, so pure as if it has body and substance, a touch of gold to it, a fullness that enriches all it touches.
On this day it touches the bird. The bird tilts its head back and sings that perfect song of spring. I stand as if the cold-hardened concrete has softened and now holds me. I tilt my head as the bird does; I to watch, the bird to sing.
We stand for that minute the bird on high, me earth bound. The early robins are usually the big males, heading into the north to stake out their turf. They push things, roll the dice and hope for good weather and enough food, hope for all of this. If the dice rolls wrong, if late season winter returns with storm and snow and cold, if that, then the birds will die and their song will be stilled.
On this day the bird sings his song of spring on a day of winter chill. In the song I hear optimism and hope and joy. In that song I hear the sound of spring to come, come out of this frozen ground. In that sound I hear a small bird that is as tough as they come, a bird with attitude.
The bird means none of this; the bird, all it’s doing is singing; just singing. The bird is announcing turf; “My tree; stay out” like a kid with a tree house and a sign that says “No girls” (which is certainly not what the robin proclaims). But its song? In that there is no meaning until we give it meaning.
We hear it, we give meaning. Of optimism. Of celebration of spring. Of defiance at the weather. I hear the robin sing on a cold March day that reminds of January, hear that song and I think of the old rock song, the old Pat Benatar song, “Hit me with your best shot/fire away.”
Hit me with your best shot; that’s what a robin says with a song of defiance in a 5 above zero day. Hit me with your best shot; I can take that and more!
The robin means none of that of course. The robin simply sings. We give the song meaning. And that, on this cold day, is enough.
Then three days pass and spring is in the air. The temperature has risen like a curtain drawn up. On this morn spring is all around, the heavy wet smell, rich with potential. The concrete feels more forgiving; the air full and warm. In the trees the birds sing; overhead the doves fly and the whistle of their wings adds to the symphony of birdsong.
Two geese fly improbably over the neighborhood, just above the trees that reach for the spring sun, above roof tops and backyards and blacktop avenues. They call their crazy wild call. And I think: a call of exultation and joy. But my thoughts. Not those of the geese.
Or is it? Are they calling for joy at the season? Are they calling for the simple act of being able to call on the day when the sun rises as if on wing? We don’t know. All these sounds; all weighted with the meaning we give them.
In the afternoon I ride the bicycle, first ride of the year, and I am heady with the rich air of spring and I pedal hard and foolish. Ten miles into it the hills bring leg ache and the wind comes from the front and I bog down. What did you expect?, I ask myself. It’s the first ride since September, what did you think would happen?
I don’t really care. All I care about is the tic-tic-tic-tic-tic sound of bicycle chain over gear, the rat-a-tat rhythm of the ride sounded off by chain and gear, metal on metal. All I care about is the ride and the wind in my face and the spring world as it blurs past as I ride.
I ride into town, turn down a dirt path into the park. There is the sound of children at play. There is the quiet sound of bicycle tire on rough pavement. There is the sound, if one slows and listens, of birds on high trees singing to the sky. All around, sound and sounds. All around the sounds that mean spring, the sounds that mean joy and the sounds that mean enthusiasm.
Sounds that mean everything. And nothing. At once.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post in downtown Rhinelander. Call 715-362-5800. To comment on this story, visit StarJournalNow.com.
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