I never thought I'd live to say this, but so far March has been delightful. The polar vortex brought weather this prairie veteran would usually call manageable, if unusually persistent and distinctly unpleasant, but my newborn had other ideas. -30 winds are a bit much for a being whose main weather experience has been a steady 37 degrees. While my winter city hardly ground to a halt, the larger half of my household sure did. Preschool truant, babe, and I remained indoors for the better half of February, waiting in vain for the weather to break. In that context, weather that I'd normally deem the beginning of my least favourite season, still winter, is enough of a change from the weeks before that I'm calling it spring. I've been down in the deep freeze long enough that sunshine and melting snow seems somewhat magical.
The Ides have brought a melt almost every afternoon, and each night it freezes without fail. By result, each dawn reveals a hoard of monochrome novelties: ever-changing formations in shrunken dirty snow banks and a marvellous array of partially frozen puddles. My son and I blaze the trail through unchartered terrain every preschool morning, high on the release from cabin fever.
I've been teaching my son the fine art of breaking these iced-over puddles. It's a joy I cultivated the late winter of grade nine, half a lifetime ago. A friend and I took to walking the three kilometers to our high school rather than taking the bus, even if it meant leaving earlier and still getting to class a bit late. We were just mature enough to be defiantly childish, and devoted ourselves to demolishing every icy overlay near our path. I revelled in the slow groan of submerging sheets and the air bubbles that jiggled beneath firmer panes, the appreciation of frosty patterns and preserving fallen leaves warring with anticipation of leaving spider cracks or - better yet - a jagged jumble in our wake.
I know the Inuit's fabled hundred words for snow is a gross exaggeration, but we could use a dozen terms or two for the dance of ice and water on pavement that marks the early urban prairie spring: grey ice, opaque but swirly, solid down to the concrete, white ice over air pockets that shatters musically underfoot, black ice - a treacherous slick whose sheen marks the only difference between wipe-out and benign wet pavement. The best, of course, is clear ice coating translucent pools, turning puddle bottoms into museum cases; its thickness determines whether it reacts to pedestrian traffic like cling wrap, plexiglass, or crystal.
I point out potential targets to my preschooler, but he seems to walk on water. Many a time I catch him looking back, startled, as ice that met his boot like marble crumbles under mine. It seems that puddle crunching is a weightier task than my teenage self presumed. Thankfully, my new initiate isn't too disappointed. May he have many an early spring to hone the craft.