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an early rite of spring

A curtain of snow rushes by our cabin, twirling like a dervish. It seems to hesitate ever so briefly, then slams into the log walls. Something creaks - the protesting wood or our windows shuddering in their frames.

A curtain of snow rushes by our cabin, twirling like a dervish. It seems to hesitate ever so briefly, then slams into the log walls. Something creaks - the protesting wood or our windows shuddering in their frames. As the wind gust shrieks past on its way to torture the frozen trees, the stovepipe sputters with a ghostly hiss.

All that’s missing for a full horror movie effect is a muffled and half-frozen shape lurching up to our cabin, I think glumly. But I’m more concerned with finding the seed package of Brussels sprouts than movie scripts. It is a vegetable I have an uneasy relationship with, similar to cottage cheese: they are foods that I enjoy only now and then, in small portions. On a more regular basis, I find them slightly revolting.

“I don’t know why I didn’t put it with the other seed envelopes,” I grumble in exasperation, surrounded by paper packages with cheerful pictures of cucumbers, carrots and broccoli. It’s much too early to start Brussels sprouts now but I still would like to know where the seeds disappeared to. A couple of plants will probably be plenty for us, Sam having already voiced his concern about wasting precious garden space for a rather dubious vegetable. “Oh, whatever,” I grunt and stuff most of the assorted seed envelopes back into the cardboard box.

Another wraith of wind-whipped snow flings itself against the cabin and slips an icy draft through whatever cracks remain after years of chinking. My forehead tingles in numb sympathy as I kneel by the window and tap a few tomato seeds out of the Early Girls envelope. Since getting bludgeoned by those icy blasts two hours earlier, my forehead continues to feel as if a dose of anaesthetic is wearing off ever so slowly. Somehow, wearing a combination of toque and parka hood was not enough to ward off an ice cream headache.

Ignoring the minus 40 windchill outside, I press my finger down on another tomato seed, enveloped in the musty smell of damp potting soil and spring. Behind the stove the face masks that have become standard equipment for outside activities over the past windswept weeks, collecting nose drips and moist breath, are drying out. Some planting weather. It is a grand day, an annual milestone, though: awakening the dormant seeds to life in spite of the Arctic scene outside the window and my frozen head.

I wish I was feeling celebratory instead of plain old grumpy. Getting walloped with the brutal wind just about everyday has caused a slight case of cabin fever. Snow drifts into our outhouse everyday and collects on the seat, giving us a chilling reception first thing every morning. I’m beginning to see the advantages of having a door on one’s bathroom facilities.

Then again, I try to cheer myself up, we’re heating like crazy now to combat the heat-sucking blasts. The tomato seeds should enjoy a cozy germinating temperature up above the wood stove. Sam must have pursued a similar train of thought.

“If those gusts don’t bring down the couple of trees that got hung up the other day, I don’t know what will,” he says hopefully, referring to an ill-fated bout of firewood cutting two weeks ago.

“Yeah, maybe.” I wash the soil off my hands. Carefully, I put the little pots up on the rack that also serves as a sock, fish and herb drier (although not at the same time). There, it is accomplished, spring has officially sprung even if it doesn’t seem to be aware of it. I survey the white landscape on the other side of the window pane where spruce seeds tumble across the snow like so many torn insect wings.

But the daylight hours are already stretching towards the equinox. Freckles have started to appear on my face again and a few days ago, when it was mercifully windstill, our raven pair dissected the contents of our compost heap. They take an interest in it mostly in spring, making off with tufts of dog fur to upholster their nest. I turn to put another log on the fire and make a mental note to start brushing the dogs more often. Like a hidden talent, spring is out there, somewhere, ready to unfold when the time has come.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.