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Howard R. Wolf: Buffalonians fine-tuned to intimations of spring

This has been a mild winter for Buffalo, so far – but one can’t say it’s over on the Niagara Frontier until the peonies bloom. But no one, especially Buffalonians, as hardy as we are, would mistake the Queen City for Miami. Nickel City isn’t worth a dime until all the ice melts at the lip of Niagara Falls.

Although we’ve been spared, so far, blizzards, power failures and icicles as thick as cathedral organ pipes, we look for signs of spring, some harbinger of seasonal renewal. For folks who can’t afford a winter vacation in Cancun or Jamaica, the coming of spring makes one want to uncork a bottle of champagne, if one can afford it. And most of us can spring at least for a bottle of the bubbly from the Finger Lakes region.

So, in the words of T.S. Eliot in his “Gerontian,” “We would see a sign.” I think I’ve seen a few, though none marks the end of winter as definitively as the full blossoming of forsythia and Walt Whitman’s beloved lilacs in my dooryard.

Here’s my short list in celebration (sort of) of the spring solstice:

A multicolored soccer ball pushes through a mound of snow along the tree line across the street. I’m pleased that some child will be kicking it in a month or so.

At dawn, which comes incrementally earlier, I hear, as I open the window slightly to less frigid air, the distant hum of jets warming up their engines in the distance. I wonder, does sound travel faster in warmer air?

Some pine branches, twisted with their struggle to escape imprisonment, are ripping open burlap straitjackets and reaching out for sunlight. I am tempted to stop at twilight, which mercifully comes later now, and liberate these evergreens from their winter captivity.

These bushes and trees, wrapped in increasingly torn material, look to me for all the winter world like prisoners on a death march or refugees reaching out for helping hands on a journey to some new and safer land. And, yes, I see some peony shoots pushing through the rain-drenched earth.

Just yesterday I saw a small squadron of Canada geese flapping their way north. They seemed a little disorganized and weren’t honking, but they were making their way toward some ancestral nesting ground.

These migrating feathered friends have a special meaning for me. Many years ago, their initial appearance after a hard winter inaugurated a better period in life for me – the acceptance of a book I had been working on for a number of years (“Forgive the Father: A Memoir of Changing Generations”) – so I cannot but hope that their beating of wings now bodes well for all the sky-watchers on my street and all across Erie County.

I’m even willing to go farther – Niagara County, the Southern Tier, Geneva, Ithaca – but I don’t want to get too carried away. If one learns anything as a Buffalonian, it’s that one’s hopes for renewal at many levels need to be restrained for a while. It takes quite a lot for us to sing along with Beethoven’s “Ode To Joy.”

If this sounds like a limitation on life in Buffalo, I think that’s a mistaken notion. In looking for signs of seasonal renewal in advance of sunbathing, boating on Lake Erie and summer baseball leagues, we fine-tune our alertness to change. We become more sensitive to differences of many kinds at many levels – one of the important lessons of democracy to be kept in mind during an election year by all parties.