Michael Kranish

THE SPELL OF NORTH RENEWED

By Michael Kranish

CONCORD, N.H. - I had nearly forgotten about spring, about a maple's red buds, about grass that turns green without year-round watering and Scott's turf builder, about sun-dappled mornings in April when the grackles cackle, the frog peepers perk and the landscape changes daily.

I had nearly forgotten all this because I have just ended the longest summer of my life: five years in hot, flat Florida, where January switches to June as unobtrusively as day slips into night.

The thing about Florida is the trees are too short, the houses too new, the climate too hot and the hills nonexistent. I became obsessed with old architecture and cool nights, streams and lakes, meadows and mountains.

One year, I drove 30 hours roundtrip to the Georgia mountains for a weekend. The next year, one stifling August afternoon, I changed my vacation plans on two hours notice, withdrew my life savings, hopped aboard a Freddie Laker flight and headed to the highest elevation in Europe. When I got to the top of 15,771-foot Chamonix-Mont-Blanc in France, it was so cloudy I couldn't see past my nose. But it was cool and glorious.

One day last January, Miami had the highest temperature in the country, 70 degrees, and Concord had the coldest, minus 33 degrees. It turned out to be the day I decided to change jobs and move to Concord.

I rushed toward winter with exuberance and relief. One last time, I rode my bicycle down Kumquat avenue in Coconut Grove, then I packed my car and drove north.

I had no winter clothes, the heat didn't work in my 1840s-era house, my toes froze and my nose turned red faster than a Miami tourist.

I loved it.

In the third week, my car door froze shut when I was on deadline the night of the New Hampshire primary. My old Frye boats got soaked. I bought lock deicer and silicone-coated, waterproof boots.

In the fourth week, I drove through the worst March snowstorm Vermont had seen in a century. I woke up in Stowe, to find my car buried under three feet of snow. The parking lot looked like an egg carton, bumps of white covering little cars. I bought a shovel, an ice scraper, a better ice scraper and a window deicer. Finally, I waited a day for the snow to melt.

Every day, I drive a seven-mile commute to work on a wonderfully hilly country road. At first, it was like this: the frozen pond was etched with snowmobile tracks, the forests hidden behind walls of snow. Trees were encumbered with ice. It was a stark, snow-white world. The only sure movement came from chimney stacks.

Then one day, where clouds had reigned for a month, a blue sky arrived and a mountain appeared.

The ice broke on the pond, the snowmobile tracks slipped away and ducks materialized. Streams fled downward, brooks babbled onward and mourning doves awoke. With the snow and ice gone, I saw stone fences and old town livestock pounds in the middle of forests.

Spring announced itself in a pond near my house that overnight filled with spring peepers. Perhaps nature's most ill-named creature, these thumb-sized frogs can drown out interstate traffic.

Quickly in the last four days, spring turned from dreary to rainy to cloudy to glorious. It was as if the earth had been a popcorn machine all winter and now it was overflowing.

Yesterday was the most glorious day so far. I searched for definite signs that spring had sprung. There were no leaves on trees, no blossoms that I could find, no fields of wildflowers. That adventure awaits me next week. Yesterday, spring was more subtle than that.

I went to a marsh near a forest just outside Concord to find nature's first visual sign of spring, the mayflower.

It took a half-hour's search but with the help of Audubon Society naturalist Bob Quinn, I found one in a clearing in the woods. It was a tiny, reddish-purple flower, not just a bud, not just a flower, but a mayflower. You know, April showers bring mayflowers.

Surrounding the clearing, there were maples, pines, hemlocks. Somewhere above, a black-capped chickadee sang: chickadee-dee-dee-dee, chickadee-dee- dee-d ee. A grackle called PEA-body, PEA-body. A muskrat left his scent on a boulder for a mate, a beaver chewed off a twig for a dam and a beetle scurried from beneath a rotted log. In the distance, a brown marsh turned red as the sweet galingale shrub bloomed in its midst.

I walked by a stream under the pines. Spring, I thought, I shall never leave you again.

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