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Jane Ahlin column: Winds blow hot, cold as the seasons change

Bubbly red leaves push up through the ground, defying sooty dry dirt and a mat of dead foliage in a long-neglected flower bed: Rhubarb will not be denied. Long before there is a green hue on the fields or haze-like canopies of buds softening the ...

Bubbly red leaves push up through the ground, defying sooty dry dirt and a mat of dead foliage in a long-neglected flower bed: Rhubarb will not be denied. Long before there is a green hue on the fields or haze-like canopies of buds softening the stark tree-bones of winter, rhubarb pops up as if to say, "Hey, folks, winter's over; get on with spring."

And, boy, am I ready to get on with spring.

Spring, spring, spring. As much as we long for it, it isn't a North Dakota thing. When it comes to seasons, we are three-pronged: winter, summer, and fall. And the emphasis is on winter. Blame the lack of spring on the wind, but around here spring is more emotional truth than meteorological reality.

Consider last week: 89 degrees and a forecast of snow. Mercury in spasms. Of course, that experience is no more typical than "spasmless" years when the cold keeps its hold on us through May and part of June. (It wasn't too many summers ago that a short, cool growing season kept most tomatoes from ripening). Other years, summer asserts itself in April and moves us from blizzard to blast furnace in a matter of days. Whatever happens, the wind always blows. Certainly, last week the wind blew gale force while it was hot and while it was cold.

Still, this calendar spring of 2003 is about as close as we ever get to a semblance of traditional spring weather. The northland's typical harbinger of spring (floods) didn't happen. River ice stayed in the river, darkening and changing to liquid form, skipping the stage of ice-jammed dams and overflowed banks. Not only was there no flood, but also, no mud. (Here let's pause for a grateful moment).

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In short, all signs suggest that after years of wet and wetter weather, we may be in for a dramatic turn. The rumblings of drought have been the stuff of coffee hours in rural cafes -- a possibility brought home to my husband and me when the area abutting the lake where we have a cabin was threatened by a grassfire, and a well-established mobile home park nearby had to be evacuated before the fire could be brought under control. In another incident, a friend working outside watched as the spark from a chainsaw flitted to a tree branch. Poof! In a moment, the entire tree was a flaming torch.

In this land of extremes, it seems too often that flood and fire -- accompanied by wind -- are the "either-ors" of the season we call springtime. Yet, surely there ought to be a third choice of moist and quiet, sunshiny mornings, a choice that lets perky marigolds and tulips die back naturally instead of having the wind rip them apart. But that would be an aberration.

No matter what we wish for, the awakening of the natural world is volatile stuff where we live. Maybe we should be amazed that we find ourselves so caught up in it. But we are. Spring sounds, sights, and smells resonate deeply within us. Much like the force which pushes up the rhubarb through winter-hardened ground, a force pushes within us to embrace the promise of newness: new growing season, new hope; new life.

Our son, about to graduate from high school, was born on Easter in a year when it fell on a late April day like it does this year. His great-grandmother died the night before he was born, and the poignancy of life and death intermingled was real in a way unlike any other Easter for us. His great-grandmother loved the earth; her yard was her joy and her haven. No grass grew greener anywhere: she made sure of that. The day she died was a beautiful spring day, as was the day her great-grandson was born. But the weather turned, and by the time we wrapped him in soft blankets for the car ride from hospital to home, there was snow in the air.

Of course, it didn't last. The rhubarb was up. The season had changed.

Ahlin teaches English as an adjunct faculty member at Minnesota State University Moorhead and is a regular contributor to The Forum's commentary pages. E-mail ajane@qwest.net

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