Early Spring Walks

Out for a walk today, it occurred to me that there is a special character to walks in early spring. The thought hit me quite literally, when the raw biting east wind slapped my face and chilled my ears. That’s it – the wind.

March, as the saying goes, comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. Here in Toronto it’s usually a pretty cold lion. When you get a snowy winter as we’ve had, that snow has to melt, and melt makes moisture which dampens the air so that what would be a brisk breeze on a sunny day becomes a bone-chiller despite the sun.

I’ve just finished a book called Where the Wild Winds Are, by Nicholas Hunt. He’s a travel writer who set out to follow the path of some of the famous winds of Europe, such as the Mistral. That put the idea of winds and walking in my mind. Despite the kick from the east wind today, we don’t have a famous wind here in Toronto. The prevailing winds are from the west, while east winds signal changes in weather and often storms. North winds come year round as fronts move through, and southerly winds happen often enough as well. We don’t have a Hogtown Hoot, or a Toronto Torrent, or a Blue Blast. We just have relatively tame, boring winds that change direction fairly often and change temperature with the seasons.

Still, that snippy east wind today did remind that it’s March and March means winter’s end and warm climes to come. March means school breaks, and the return of baseball, and thawed out barbecues. And of course, March means spring and flowers and birds and trees in leaf. March is a transitory month – a window and a promise of the season to come, and yet also a reminder and kicker to the season we’re leaving. March means change.

March also means walking is depressing and cheering at the same time. Depressing because the melt-off reveals the crud and garbage that has been hidden in snow banks, and the snow by the roads has become grey-black ice – the result of accumulated car exhaust that makes you realize you’re breathing that in as you walk.

March roadside loveliness – Eglinton West near Avenue Road
Nothing changes – Toronto, about 1856 – must be about March, you can see the puddles and bits of snow on the edge of the road

And yet cheering because when the sun is out, and early season birds are singing, you feel the promise of warmer days to come. Sometimes that chill breeze swings around to the south and becomes a warm breath. Then people are bouncier, cheerier, positively bursting for spring – you get the early shorts-wearers even if the temperature is 0C, and teenagers toss winter clothes aside and head out in T-shirts to show off pale arms.

March is often a tough month for walking, because the ground is melting and muddy, with water and slush everywhere combined with hidden icy patches. Sidewalks are often still narrowed by snow banks, and park trails aren’t cleared yet. The wicked gust that chills your walk also lifts the moisture and dries the ground, slowly but inexorably.

So in March, I try to get out as much as I can, but it’s a chore more than a fun walk. I just tell myself that April is around the corner and then May will bring greens, reds, and yellows to replace the browns and greys of winter and early spring, so I grin and bear it, put my head down, and march past the lion.