Janet Sheridan: Playing at tug-of-war

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Janet Sheridan

The first week of April, I studied a color photograph of the famous cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C.

An hour later, I glanced out the window and realized Craig also has cherry blossoms in April — if you look with care and use your imagination.

Pay attention to the trees on those mornings when we awaken to fresh snowfall.

As the day turns warm, you may catch the magic moment when bare branches shed some of the fluffed-up snow that lines them, and countless soft clumps remain, clinging to the support of branching twigs and dotting the trees with clusters of frozen white beauty — Craig’s cherry-blossom festival.

I know imagined blossoms seem optimistic when winter and spring play tug-of-war, yanking Craig back and forth willy-nilly. But, April sightings of determined plants and plucky birds reassure me that winter won’t win.

When the permanent layer of snow that descended before Christmas begins to reluctantly fade in March, Joel and I begin our yard walks.

Bundled up, we prowl about, looking for any sign of life in our winter-beaten trees, shrubs, and flower gardens.

Tulips encourage us with their insistent progress through half-frozen ground and layers of leaves decayed to transparency. We’re certain the deer will be even happier to see them.

We scrutinize tree branches for buds, marvel at the hardiness of the Dragon’s Blood sedum lining our front fence, and comment with more hope than common sense as we wander.

“I can’t see anything, but I know I put that stick there to mark something we transplanted. I just can’t remember what.”

“Do you think we should get the bird feeder out? I think I hear birdsong between the bursts of howling wind.”

Feeling chilled as winter rallies against spring with a mighty tug, we soon scurry inside.

A vanguard of birds revives our optimism in mid-April when they are blown to our backyard on a whimsical wind and word spreads the Sheridans are offering food.

We entertain purple finches, looking like they’ve dipped their heads in cranberry juice, and two plump chickadees, willful in their refusal to hold still for our admiration.

Scrappy sparrows take a timeout from nest building to eat at our feeders in their business-like way, although one looks a bit dazed after flying into a window in his excitement over our reopened restaurant.

As April fades into May, I look out the window one afternoon and see that Joel has relieved our fountain of its winter wrap — evidence that spring is slowly dragging winter across the tug-of-war line.

I can’t revel in the realization, however, because I know what happens next: we begin our annual Keystone Cops routine as we work together to get the fountain running.

I straddle with one foot on the path in our arbor and the other on the edging board that runs behind the fountain, looming over five feet of muddy flower garden like an awkward emu.

Then, off-balance and clumsy, I tip the heavy top of the fountain forward and to the side while Joel, who has crawled through a climbing rose and along a narrow opening between the garage and a honeysuckle-covered trellis to the electrical outlet and fountain’s back, inserts the pump in the well at the bottom — a task that makes him edgy.

Seeing the reddened scratches on his arms from his trip through the rose bush, I try to obey without angry rebuttals as he commands: “OK, lean it forward. Too far! Too far! Now to the side — more! More!! Can’t you see I don’t have enough room? Now, ease it down. EASY! … Is it working? Is it working? (expletive, expletive, expletive) OK … pick it up again.”

After 20 minutes of this merriment, we are red-faced, muttering, and hot on even the coldest spring day.

Later that afternoon, our ire forgotten, we laugh as we watch a robin splash in the basin’s fountain.

The contest is over.

Spring has won.

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