The Madness of a Michigan Spring

. March 31, 2017.

There is major madness in Michigan, as is common in Spring. By this point in the calendar, most of us parents have been housebound and sun-deprived for months, gobbling Vitamin D to avoid snapping like Jack Nicholson in a garden maze. Our kids have already outgrown all their winter clothes and lost a few dozen gloves, which you can’t replace because the stores are already stocked with Bermuda shorts. We’ve been resisting the urge to throw our hands up and tell our quarrelsome offspring to “TAKE IT OUTSIDE” because you know that eventually they’ll end up bringing it all back in again.

We’re falling all over ourselves, pining for The Great Thaw.

We’ve lived through five winters since we moved to Ann Arbor, and each has been different. The first was so ridiculously mild— the Buhr Park skating rink closed three weeks early to avoid becoming a reflecting pool— that I spent the first day of spring wondering what all the fuss was about. “Michigan winters are literally a breeze,” I thought to myself, driving to the hardware store with the sunroof open.

I spent a few hours that day lovingly treating my lawn with grass seed that froze to death in a week. That was the first of many rookie mistakes.

The next year, we set a record for snowfall and during those grim, early-morning shovel-outs, I set a record for unbroken streams of profanity. The winter after that was one of the warmest in the continent’s history, but the Polar Vortex focused its -40 degree wrath exactly on my house. I’m only estimating, of course, because that’s the lowest number on my thermometer, which unionized with my furnace and staged a walkout.

This is the maddening thing about The Great Thaw: You never know when it’ll happen. You watch the skies and reflexively refresh your weather apps as the promise of genuine, long-term warmth teases and entices. You long for the end of the daily morning ritual of telling your kids to leave the house in something warmer than that threadbare cotton hoodie.

Giving in

One year, the madness took over, and I sort of snapped. For weeks, I had been driving over a hump of solid ice that had formed in my driveway apron after a late-night plowing. Addled by weeks of life in a gray freezer, I grabbed my garden spade and started chopping with the misguided passion of a gold prospector. After about 15 minutes the composite effect was basically nothing. This ice would outlive us all.

My neighbor saw what I was up to, took pity on me, and loaned me her six-foot, 50-pound spar-chisel thing (I don’t drive to the hardware store very often). With just a few tamps, the big berg broke free, and I was possessed by a maniacal happiness that I’m sure inspired some of my neighbors to hover over the 9-1-1 digits on their phones.

Over the years, I’ve found it’s best to adopt a more Zen-like approach to anticipating spring by not anticipating so much.  Each of us is but a mere ice chunk, floating along the gutter of fate into the storm drain of destiny. Whatever happens will happen. And whenever it happens will give me plenty of time to switch gears and start whining about having to cut the grass.