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Downing

The season of happiness, or, spring goes rushing past

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Poor, dear, silly Spring, preparing her annual surprise. —Wallace Stevens

Why is spring always a surprise? Perhaps just because it's so lovely that we can never quite remember how beautiful it is, how wonderful it feels to be alive in spring. During the endless heat of summer and the darkness and cold of winter—yes, even here, where the sun mostly shines—we forget the pleasures of spring because they are incomparable.

They are pleasures that range deep and wide, from the cosmic level of the rebirth of nature occurring once again—for in the desert, too, winter is the season of stasis and death—all the way to the simple, animal comforts of the floor being warm in the morning and getting to leave the windows and doors open. (My dogs particularly like the front door being open. Dog TV is much better with smell-o-vision.)

Spring arrived here with more than its usual glorious abruptness this year, dawning as it did so soon after our February snowstorm, which was more of a blizzard for a while out in Oro Valley, where I work. (Between my own incompetence at driving in snow and what I suspected about my fellow commuters' skills, stretches of the drive home were actually scary.)

A couple of days later, it was as if we'd all dreamed the snow. And 10 days after, on March 2, it hit 92. That was a Saturday, the first really warm weekend day this year, and, though the wildflowers hadn't had time to start popping out, other sorts of pretty things were showing off everywhere you looked. I happened to be out driving around town doing errands mid-day, and there were girls in bikini tops and shorts and flip-flops all over town: four near-naked girls riding in a convertible waving their arms in the air here, two girls walking along the sidewalk there, the tops of their winter-pale shoulders already turning pink, ignoring the stares they were getting, trying to be offhand but visibly giddy with their own youth and beauty and the way it chimed with the first flush of spring.

(I came home and told my husband about it and he said that he was very sorry he hadn't come with me to Whole Foods and Walgreens.)

Now that spring has seriously settled in, there's a carpet of lupine along Tangerine Road, the globemallow's getting going and my nice new neighbors' front-yard weeds are revealed as penstemon and African daisies. Most of the bushes that looked dead after the big January freeze are coming back from the bottom and the cactus seem to be fine. This is a relief. Wild weather is the planet's immediate future so it's good to know that our favorite tropicals and the native plants hold up better to cold than you might think. And some of the transplants positively relish it—the carpet of violets that's spread itself in the shade of my front porch went limp in the frost, but immediately after pushed up a zillion buds.

Its waft of deliciously cool fragrance is starting to fade now, just as the honeylike sweet acacia is tuning up. I don't know which I enjoy more.

And then there are the birds, driven to insane volubility. Around my neighborhood, you can barely hear yourself think outdoors for the mockingbirds and thrashers. And there's a remarkable house finch out where I work who's been sitting on the same bare branch of the same mesquite for weeks now, singing his scribbly song. He's a common bird, a dime-a-dozen bird, but he's throwing himself into it. You have to admire that.

Of course it will be over in no time. In a few weeks the mesquites will have all leafed out, the paloverdes will have exploded into Easter-yellow bloom, the cactus will have flowered and summer will be here for six months. Brevity is essential to spring's poignance—her annual surprise does not last long. As Robert Frost has it, nothing gold can stay.

I have never lived in one of those places—say, San Diego or Maui—where the climate is perfect, where the season is always a version of spring, so I don't know what it would be like. I imagine, though, that the people who live there probably begin to take perfection for granted, and stop treasuring it the way we do who see it go rushing by.

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