Springtime can make you dizzy with memories

MARQUETTE — “Stop and smell the roses, baby I can’t hardly see,” – Steve Forbert

There’s a smell to the air in the springtime that makes me dizzy with memories. Something about the cold and damp in the winds too that makes me recall with ease many of those childhood times.

I remember waiting for the snow to melt so I could get the old, wooden basement door open to get my bike out for the summer.

I had an emerald-green bike my uncle bought for me and before that, a smaller, gold-sparkled wheelie bike with a beige, leather banana seat and handlebars that made it easy to pull up on the front end to jump curbs.

The basement door sat under the eaves of the back roof, so a good deal of snow and ice would be piled up there by springtime. It seemed like it took forever for those craggy clumps to dissolve like pats of butter into the grass.

I have an April birthday, which has stood as a marker throughout the years to help me remember whether there was still snow on the ground when I turned another year older.

I recall one birthday party I had as a kid. I had invited several kids from school, and we planned to play basketball in the backyard. There ended up being about two feet of snow on the ground that day.

Not ideal conditions by any means, though it never really was. Our basketball hoop was attached to the back of the neighbor’s garage. We didn’t have a garage ourselves.

Instead, the surface of the basketball “court” in our yard was uneven lawn where my dad had once maintained a horseshoe court.

If you walked certain uphill parts of the yard, you could be nearer the rim.

My mom used to shoot baskets with me and always made me a homemade birthday cake. I remember one was a lime-green colored castle. We party played games like “Clothespins in a Bottle” and “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.”

Back outside, it seemed like our kid world schedules were always far ahead of the reality of winter’s unrelenting grip on our region. When the snow did begin to melt, we made dams along the curbs to block the water from the snowmelt before it reached the storm sewers.

We would pick worms in the backyard with flashlights and coffee cans, ahead of the last Saturday in April – the opening day of trout fishing season.

I remember cold days freezing out there fishing on those late April openers. Most often, the water in the creeks was still so bone-chilling cold the fish were rarely motivated to bite.

Spring was also a time for grass fires or peat fires that were almost always lit by kids wanting attention or to cause mischief.

After school, we’d spend our late afternoons, evenings and weekends planning all the things we would do over the summer. Like, play football and whiffle ball in the backyard and kickball in the street and when I was younger, play “mine trucks” in the sandbox.

Our toy excavators and metal dump trucks probed the red earth less than a hundred yards from the gate of the Cliff’s Shaft, where real miners drove real mine trucks and real uniformed mine cops kept us little kids away from the fences.

Running everywhere, falling, rolling, tumbling in the grass and laughing, getting wet right through and not caring at all, those were the kid days. We built chippy traps baited with white bread. Some of us had cap guns, others a football or a softball or a hardball and a mitt.

Every kid that I knew had to go home when the streetlights came on. This was especially true in the springtime. The daylight-saving time had come and there was much more daylight.

We had no more excuses like we did when it had been getting pitch black dark at 4 p.m. in the heart of December – days when the streetlights came on almost right after school and it seemed as though the end of winter was a million miles away.

Springtime also meant a lot of high water running in the creeks and streams, with lots of flooding and unstable places to stand. It might have been dangerous for young kids to be out there along the riverbanks, but our parents trusted us to go.

If you fell in the creek once in the springtime you knew you didn’t want to do it again. The water was so cold you would gasp for air. By the time you got home with wet clothes the cold water had become ice that now made your pants, jacket and shirt hard to bend, like cardboard.

A warm bath and you’d be fine. I think those early kid days playing outside in all kinds of weather helped me become indifferent to most cold weather I now encounter. I remember eating Cream of Wheat on cold mornings and tomato soup with oyster crackers.

After the soup was gone, you could still warm your hands on the ceramic soup cup. I still do that. I did it today. Split pea with ham, the Campbell’s condensed variety, using half the water to mix.

I recall waiting anxiously for major league baseball season to start. I collected baseball and football cards that came packaged ten in a pack, I think, with a big piece of pink, flat bubblegum that also had a stiff consistency, like cardboard.

If the gum was old or cold enough, it would shatter into little pieces if you tried to bend it. Flying kites was another fun thing to do in the spring. I remember getting a purple box kite for my birthday one year.

We played with yo-yos, balsawood airplane gliders you could launch with a rubber band, Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars, toy trains and battery-operated race cars and electric football.

Today is gray and chilly, 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, as in fall, there are a couple days of rain expected this weekend.

How can Easter be over already? I didn’t even get the chance to bite the head off a chocolate rabbit this year. I missed the candy hearts at Valentine’s Day too. I really don’t recall much of what happened after the blur of the holiday season.

The new year came and then it immediately started vanishing. It’s as though there was so much more time when I was younger to do all kinds of things.

Now, it seems like by the time I see something up ahead that I want to do, I can look in the rearview mirror and see it flashing past, disappearing, gradually getting smaller in the glass.

The snow is clearing from a lot of the woods, revealing familiar trails and places I have yet to ever be. Time is the key. It can take away options or add them.

I think about the phrase “time is money” and I want to twist it slightly to say instead “time is like money,” be careful how and where you spend it.

I try to think back to when I was a kid and remember all the things I wanted to do when I grew up. It can be mind-bending to consider whether I am the person today who I hoped I would become when I was young.

Maybe the weekend rains will start the buds popping out on the trees? The flowers poking up through the dirt in the garden are a hopeful sight – promises for prettier days ahead.

For some reason, all this recollection and re-examination rings hollow and sad somehow. Perhaps it’s the recognition that the past is past, and it doesn’t come back.

I walk on understanding that like a lot of people, I carry a lot of weight and sorrows from the past. Oddly, those things can seem alive and vibrant, while some of things I know I must have done but can’t recall somehow have slipped through my fingers in big pieces, like clumped dirt.

It’s such a strange thing this existence is.

Diamonds and mud, flowers and blood, cactus wine and catastrophes. The damselfly is a beautiful creature that lives for months or years in its early stages – only two weeks as an adult.

— — —

Outdoors North is a weekly column produced by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a wide range of topics important to those who enjoy and appreciate Michigan’s world-class natural resources of the Upper Peninsula.


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