I’ve been waiting for spring. At least that’s what I’ve been doing I wasn’t confused about the seasons and waiting for fall. I know I’m supposed to be worldly, and I totally understand hemispheres and stuff, but it seems my brain simply cannot simultaneously accept snowmen on the bulletin board at school and July or discussions of Halloween parties and spring. Sometimes I get so confused that I end up thinking it’s June, a month that makes no sense in either hemisphere.
At home we’ve now lived in our town on our block in our house for long enough that I don’t have to wait for spring with blind hope and frantic uncertainty. There will be some week in February when, hunched against the wind, I’ll look down to see the bare earth pushed up by the points of snowdrops and I’ll feel my back start to unfurl with anticipation. Soon there will be beams of sunlight foiling the blackout curtains in our bedroom, poking my eyes awake at unrealistically early hours. The irises in Phoebe’s alley, which always bloom weeks before the ones in my backyard, will remind me to clear away the winter mulch from our flower bed.
In Montevideo I’m clueless, so I’ve been waiting for spring ever since we arrived in the middle of July when it was grey, damp, and unpleasant; but never cold enough for everything to die. Some trees held their leaves all winter and a few plants continued to grow and even flower. The kids were singing songs about snow at school and talking about what they did over winter vacation, which somehow only added to my general seasonal confusion.
Many streets and parks in Montevideo are lined with large trunked trees whose branches spread wide over sidewalk and street. It was thrilling to imagine how lush the city would look when more than just a few were fully alive. A month ago buds finally appeared on bare branches. On cold days the wind off the water, while still bitter, felt less vengeful. Two weeks later the buds were still there, still tightly wrapped in a brown outer layer with only a hint of green showing. The kids had spring vacation, celebrated spring with parties at school, and brought home bean germinators. Asparagus, lettuce, and flowers started showing up at the markets. All sure signs of the coming spring.
Days of rain came, which I thought would cause everything to burst open into a mass of green, but only managed to produce a light green haze around some of the trees. Around then I started thinking about Halloween and the girl’s birthday, got confused and stopped looking for signs of spring in every plant I passed.
Then one day last week, when rushing down the block on a sunny day, late as usual to pick up the girl, I stopped short. Where there was usually sun a patch of gently swaying shade had formed. I looked up into a canopy of bright green fully formed leaves. All up and down the street it was the same. The air plants tucked into cracks and crevices of trees had shot out purple and pink flowers. There were more people outside, as if they too had finally pushed out of their late-winter coverings to run free. From our kitchen window the tops of trees looked like the round, green puffs of children’s illustrations. Here was spring at last.
Here and there were pockets of air heavy with the scent of Jasmine flowers, a smell that no matter how many times I smell it remains unfamiliar and thrilling. And there was one scent that was familiar, though entirely unexpected: Lilacs. I thought I smelled them on the walk to school, but seeing no bushes decided I must be imagining it. Then the next day, overpowering the ever-present smell of the guard dogs’ feces from across the street, there it was again, strong and persistent. I looked left and right and then, with nowhere else to look, up into the branches of a huge tree. Among the green leaves and pale brown berries were purple lilac-like blooms hanging down. Apparently these trees, Melia azedarachs, grow in parts of the United States, but I had never seen or smelled them before. They are a popular tree here and entire blocks are sometimes lined with them, but I pass the standalone one on the way to school most regularly. As I go by I give it a little nod of recognition and take a moment to look up and see the familiar and the unfamiliar growing from the same roots.