Friday, May 21, 2004

Watching Spring Come to Akron

I had not been in Akron for an extended visit (more than 3 days) for almost 30 years. The last full Ohio springtime I experienced was exactly 20 years ago. The season change in New England can be tentative and frustrating. The light is different and the day not as long. I was excited to be in Akron, I didn’t know for how long but it turned out to be, roughly, from the Vernal (green slowly, inexorably overcomes gray) Equinox to after my Dad’s funeral in mid-May.

The first thing I always notice, especially when I drive across the New York Thruway, is the slow opening of the sky. Along with the 45 minute difference in length of day, the sky is just bigger as one approaches the old Western Reserve. Back here in Boston I go to the beach to watch the sunrise, I realize, just to get a sense of the horizon. In Ohio I rarely see the sun come over the horizon, but I don’t have to. There is just more blue or gray as it tends to be about 60% of the time.

I got to watch a lot of television for those few weeks. Come March or April local affiliate stations generally run hilarious (perhaps not intentionally) commercials for lawn care products and riding mowers. Things like, “John, my sneakers are green!” “Well Ben you need a 650 horsepower 4 stroke riding tractor mower the size of your pick up truck. That will do the trick”. There is truly a lawn fixation in my parent’s neighborhood. Indeed in the whole county. Most houses sit on quarter acre lots and people say disparaging things about their neighbors, like, “look at all those dandelions.” Lawns are a different color than here. The idea of Kentucky Blue grass just has a fuller expression than seems possible here.

As an act of open rebellion against our upbringing we spent four years removing most of the grass from our yard in Boston. When I got back I realized we could never attain the unstudied glory of a well-tended lawn in a working class neighborhood of Akron. The grass is pale. The dirt rocky and thin. The quality of day light incompatible with the vigorous flourishing of grass seed. And there just isn’t enough room. Here in Dorchester the lots are filled with buildings. In West Akron a house is incomplete without a full devil strip (the piece of lawn next to the street on the other side of the sidewalk) a substantial, by Boston standards, front lawn and a gloriously large back yard and vegetable garden. There are few flowers, annual or perennial, but there are bushes.

Brownie (the brown dog) and I would survey the lawns, and lawn care practices, every morning. There were frost tinged blue green expanses and rain soaked ones. Some mornings they were sun dappled. There were a few tulips and one yard in a four block area with an actual flower garden. The air was mostly warm and the view wide enough to give a girl a chance to breath.

Brownie and I were awakened at 3:30 a.m. by robins and mockingbirds, black capped chickadees and gold finches, house wrens and mourning doves anticipating sunrise. Of course sunrise was 3 hours away. They were exuberant, celebrating the nesting season. By the time we left the sidewalks were littered sky blue with the broken shells of recently hatched robins. My father used to have a nesting pair of wrens. I never thought of them as his until we were talking about the recent porch renovation. The nest had been removed to paint column it had rested on. I asked Dad if he thought they would come back. He said he thought they would. It turns out he had been there chick care assistant, feeding the babies little bits of bread while the parents went hunting for more substantial fare. The mom and pop birds must have known and approved. They returned to the nest year after year. They did not come back this year. They must have known their assistant might not be up to the task.

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