February 21, 2007

We saw a bed of pansies yesterday, bedraggled and miserable, their springtime-in-January blooms barely smudges against off-color leaves. But we saw them.

Rarely has the onset of mushy dirty total grayness been so welcome. The ice was beautiful, of course. Monday's bright sun angling through the bare trees put down a pattern of just-blurred shadows across perfectly smooth and unbroken back yards; the view from the kitchen window was like an art photograph from the 1930s. But the garbage can was frozen and inaccessible in the alley, and treachery lay everywhere. The ice had become more than tiresome - it was in fact horrifyingly deadly for sledders in Harford and Howard counties.

Yesterday's warm air wasn't the balmy kind, or invigorating. It churned up some odors and spread ugliness everywhere. Rowhouse roofs dripped off odd corners. The rotting ice yielded old newspapers, cup lids, cigarette butts, a sandwich. At the foot of the Marquis de Lafayette's statue in Mount Vernon, a few sheets of lined paper emerged with smeared notes on them, or perhaps a poem. Across the square, Roger Taney, once chief justice of the United States, looked down from his bronze seat at a ring of broken ice slabs, stuck upright in the slush like someone's idea of Stonehenge. They won't last as long.

Aesthetics can take a holiday. We'll take the thaw.

We'll put on lighter coats and we won't worry about the pipes freezing or our ankles breaking. We can live with mud. We can wish for rain to wash away all the salt everywhere. We know winter isn't over and maybe we wouldn't even mind one more snowfall - just as long as it really was snow and not ice - but we also know that the pansies will recover and the park will rouse itself into spring, and all in good time.

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