Through the window-paned doors he could see the last flakes of snow falling to the ground. They were big, fluffy, unexpected flakes – a reminder that even though the temperatures of the past couple of days had indicated otherwise, it was still Winter. Even the calendar mounted on the refrigerator said that the first day of Spring was still three weeks away. Alas, the recent warmer temperatures had also meant that as soon as each snowflake made contact with the ground, they would return to their original liquid origin, speckling the back patio with wet, irregular polka-dots.
He had wanted to run outside when the snow started falling, to be a kid again: looking up to the sky, opening his mouth, sticking his tongue out, tasting the cold. However, less child-like, more mature concerns kept him from flinging open the doors, and venturing out on to the patio. Should he put a coat on? What shoes should he wear? Did he really want to head out into the cold? Would he get wet? The snow was going to stop falling as soon as he stepped outside anyway, right? The snow did stop falling eventually, but much later then he had falsely predicted. As he watched those last flakes of snow slowly descend and then melt on the slate tiles on his back patio, that all too familiar sense of regret was reawakened in him again.
The past couple of days had been filled with many similar moments, small missed opportunities. Each time he would take a moment – and just a moment – to think about what he had just let pass him by. And each time that strangely hollow bit of emptiness inside of him would tell him You should have done that. But, again, it was just a moment, a split second of his thoughts, and then he would continue on with his life until the next such moment arrived sooner or later. Usually sooner. He continued to stare outside. By this time, there were no traces of white left on the patio, nor on the lawn chair that should have been put into storage months ago. That brief Winter Wonderland had simply become the remnants of a brief sprinkle of rain. Maybe Spring had come early? No!
He pushed himself away from the table, walked over to the front door where his shoes were, and slipped on his favorite pair of Winter mocs, and finally headed out onto the patio. As he opened the door, he felt the cool air brush against his face, and was disappointed to find it was not cooler, colder. A few steps later, he was standing in the middle of his small backyard, surrounded by the few shrubs and trees that comprised his bit of green in this corner of the city. As he stood on the graveled landscape, he looked up to the sky hoping for any stragglers. Nothing. He continued to look around, hoping to catch some sign of the brief flurry that he had just watched from the safety of his kitchen table chair. Again, nothing.
He was not anti-Spring, he just wanted Winter to get it’s full due. He wanted a return to the Winters of his childhood. Watching the snow fall and fall until it buried the small set of stairs that led up to his front door, and the resulting joyful anticipation of sitting by the radio as the announcer read off the list of school closings. The inevitable laughter that would burst forth after watching one of his brothers take a step off the back porch, and disappear into a bank of white – his brother would be laughing too. The joyous thrill of sledding down the big hill on an inverted trash can lid. The warmth and love of the triangles of grilled cheese sandwiches and bowls of tomato soup that his mom would have waiting for him and his brothers once they had shaken off all the snow from their dungarees, and removed the Wonder Bread bags (which were secured with rubberbands) that lined their boots. Life had definitely become much more complicated since then, and the meteorological patterns of the intervening years seemed to favor milder Decembers, Januarys and Februarys.
Trying to make the best of it, and to make sure his venturing outside was not for naught, he began to take a closer inspection of his surroundings. He observed the pattern of the snow-rain-drops on the leaves of a dormant azalea. He tried to discern which shades of gray on the large pieces of gravel were part of the stones themselves or bits of dampness. He reached over to the poured concrete border that formed one of the flowerbeds, and as he felt the cold coming off of it even before his fingers made contact with the manmade stone, he smiled.
Suddenly, his eyes caught a glimpse of Green. Leaves. He grew wary and weary again of the prospect of a pre-mature Spring, but he soon realized that the Green was preserved, not new growth. He breathed a happy sigh of relief. The leaves were at the base of a single flower bud. He thought it might be a daisy at first, but it might have been a rose, however, he could not recall if he had ever seen roses in his backyard. Truth be told, even though he liked flowers, he was never one to keep track of which fanciful name went with each formation of petals and colors.
He looked at the bud. It seemed as if it had been preserved right at the moment before it was supposed to open to let the enclosed petals expose themselves to the outside air and sun. He thought that if he touched it, that it might burst. Maybe it was hibernating. The green-ness of it puzzled and awed him at the same time. It was already the last week of February, and this bud had to have been formed months ago. It had survived the rainy October, the early chill of November, and the snowfall earlier in the month. Mother Nature at her most resilient.
He gazed over at the fence, and noticed another clump of flowers resting against the slats. However, these flowers were not Green. They were Gray, Yellowed, frail. He walked over to them, and as each step took him closer, his sense of marvel increased. It appeared that the whole plant was dead. There was no trace of green in the stems, in the leaves, nor in the petals, but like the bud, it had been preserved and had literally weathered the elements of the past couple of months. He noticed the network of fibers that formed the basis of the petals; they reminded him of a counted cross-stitch panel that was either still in progress or had begun to fray at the edges. Parts of it were exposed, while other parts still retained their original covering, now sun-bleached and parchment-like.
At the base of this plant, he noticed a piece of paper, a stray bit of litter that had most likely blown in from one of the adjacent yards. He bent down to pick it up, and as he began to stand up and turn his head, he found himself looking up into the sky through the faded bouquet he had just been admiring. The clouded sunlight only seemed to grow more intense as it filtered through the translucent petals. Bright, White, Light. Simultaneously, the flowers seemed to lose their fade as their silhouettes sharpened in relief against the backdrop of the still-Winter sky. For a split second he thought it was snowing again.
He could only take advantage of that vantage point for a few seconds; any longer and he would have surely lost his balance and tumbled into the wooden fence, onto the plant, crushing that fragile Winter arrangement. Once he was standing upright again, he took one more look around the small garden before heading back inside. He kept his Winter mocs on and went back to his bedroom to fetch his wallet as well as his house keys, and walked out his front door. As he walked towards the grocery store up the street, he began to make his mental shopping list.
A can of tomato soup
A package of individually wrapped slices of American cheese
A loaf of Wonder Bread. Or two.