MARQUET — “Stop and smell the roses, baby, I can barely see” –Steve Forbert
There’s a smell in the air in spring that makes me dizzy with memories. Something about the cold and wet in the winds too that reminds me with ease of many of those childhood times.
I remember waiting for the snow to melt so I could open the old wooden basement door and get my bike out for the summer.
I had an emerald green bike my uncle bought me and before that a smaller, glistening gold wheelie bike with a tan leather banana seat and handlebars that made it easier to pull up front to jump the curbs.
The basement door was under the eaves of the rear roof, so a lot of snow and ice would have accumulated there in the spring. It seemed like it took forever for those steep clumps to dissolve like clumps of butter in the grass.
I have a birthday in April, which served as a marker through the years to help me remember if there was still snow on the ground when I turned a year older.
I remember a birthday party I had when I was a kid. I had invited several children from school and we had planned to play basketball in the garden. There was about two feet of snow on the ground that day.
These are by no means ideal conditions, although they never really were. Our basketball hoop was tied to the back of the neighbor’s garage. We didn’t have a garage ourselves.
Instead, the surface of the basketball “to research” in our yard was an uneven lawn where my father had once maintained a horseshoe pitch.
If you hiked some uphill parts of the yard, you might be closer to the edge.
My mom used to shoot hoops with me and always made me a homemade birthday cake. I remember one of them was a lime green colored castle. We played games like “Clothespins in a Bottle” and “Pin the tail on the donkey.”
Back outside, it seemed like our children’s world schedules were still well ahead of the reality of winter’s relentless grip on our region. When the snow started to melt, we made dams along the curbs to block the snowmelt water before it reached the storm drains.
We were collecting worms in the garden with flashlights and coffee cans, before the last Saturday in April – the opening day of the trout fishing season.
Spring was also a time of grass or peat fires which were almost always started by children wanting to attract attention or cause mischief.
After school, we spent our late afternoons, evenings and weekends planning everything we would do during the summer. Like, playing football and ball in the garden and kickball in the street and when I was younger, playing “mining trucks” in the sandbox.
Our toy diggers and metal dump trucks probed the red dirt within a hundred yards of the Cliff’s Shaft gate, where real miners drove real mining trucks and real uniformed cops steered us away from the fences.
Running around, falling, rolling, tumbling in the grass and laughing, getting all wet and not caring at all, that was the time of the kids. We built baited fry traps with white bread. Some of us had cap guns, some had a soccer ball or a softball or a hardball and a glove.
All the kids I knew had to go home when the streetlights came on. This was especially true in the spring. Summer time had arrived and there was a lot more daylight.
We no longer had excuses like we did when it was dark at 4 p.m. in the heart of December – days when the streetlights came on almost right after school and it seemed like the end of the winter was millions of miles away.
Spring also meant lots of high water in creeks and creeks, with lots of flooding and unstable places to stand. It might be dangerous for young children to be out there along the banks, but our parents trusted us to go.
If you fell in the creek once in the spring, you knew you didn’t want to do it again. The water was so cold it would take your breath away. By the time you got home with wet clothes, the cold water had turned to ice making your pants, jacket, and shirt hard to fold, like cardboard.
A hot bath and you’ll be fine. I think those early days of kids playing outside in all weathers helped me become indifferent to most of the cold temperatures I encounter now. I remember eating cream of wheat on cold mornings and tomato soup with oyster crackers.
After the soup was finished, you could still warm your hands on the ceramic soup mug. I always do that. I did it today. Ham split peas, Campbell’s condensed variety, using half the water to mix.
I remember looking forward to the start of the major league baseball season. I collected baseball and football cards that came ten in a pack, I think, with a big, flat piece of pink chewing gum that also had a stiff, cardboard-like consistency.
If the eraser was old or quite cold, it would break into small pieces if you tried to bend it. Flying kites was another fun thing to do in the spring. I remember being given a purple kite for my one year birthday.
We played with yo-yos, balsa wood airplane gliders that you could launch with a rubber band, Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars, battery-operated model trains and race cars, and electric football.
Today is gray and cool, one of those unpleasant spring days that reminds me of autumn once all the leaves have fallen and died. But instead of snow showers in the forecast, like in the fall, a few rainy days are expected this weekend.
How can Easter already be over? I haven’t even had a chance to bite off a chocolate bunny’s head this year. I missed the candy hearts on Valentine’s Day too. I really don’t remember much of what happened after the holiday season blur.
The new year came, and then it immediately began to fade away. It’s like there was so much more time when I was younger to do all kinds of things.
Now it seems that the moment I see something in front of me that I want to do, I can look in the rearview mirror and see it scrolling, disappearing, getting progressively smaller in the glass.
Snow clears from much of the woods, revealing familiar trails and places I haven’t been before. Time is the key. He can delete options or add them.
I think of the phrase “Time is money” and I want to twist it slightly to say instead “time is like money” be careful where and how you spend it.
I try to think back to my childhood and remember all the things I wanted to do growing up. It can be mind-blowing to wonder if I am today the person I hoped to become when I was young.
Maybe the weekend rains will make the tree buds sprout? The flowers sprouting through the earth in the garden are a hopeful sight – promises for brighter days to come.
For some reason, all of this remembering and re-examining rings hollow and sad somehow. It may be the recognition that the past is gone and not coming back.
I walk with the understanding that, like many people, I carry a lot of weight and sorrow from the past. Oddly, these things can feel alive and vibrant, while some of the things I know I must have done but can’t remember slipped through my fingers in big chunks, like clumped dirt.
It’s such a strange thing this existence is.
Diamonds and mud, flowers and blood, cactus wine and disasters. The damsel is a beautiful creature that lives for months or years in its infancy – only two weeks when fully grown.
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Outdoors North is a weekly column produced by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a wide range of topics important to those who love and appreciate the world-class natural resources of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.