“Season Song” by the Brooklyn-based indie-rock duo KaiserCartel is getting a lot of play around our house these days. They initially wrote it for a kids’ music compilation CD, and it’s sing-songy that way, but I’m smitten with it because it doesn’t play favorites: Backed by the two lovebirds’ whistling rhythm track, it’s a mash-up between melodic pop-rock and prophetic Ecclesiastes whose chorus chirps, “These are the things/We see/Each year/That show we’ve grown/It’s time to cheer/The seasons of the year.”
“Season Song” was ripping out of the car CD player as I cruised down shorts- and sundress-smattered South Bryant Avenue the other afternoon. The stubborn-as-she-goes sun of ’08 was out for what seemed like the first time in a decade, and outside the flower shop on the corner of 36th & Bryant, scrawled on an old-timey stand-up sidewalk placard was this announcement: “Soil and Dirt are In!”
Now, while I can be prone to exaggeration, I’m no fan of exclamation points. They’re lazy and overused and it seems to me that the best epiphanies are the ones that don’t label themselves as such, or come on too strong! Rather, they announce themselves with the shy elegance of a chirping bird, or pitchers and catchers reporting for spring training. Likewise, it’s safe to say that nobody in this embattled burg needs a weatherman to know that this winter was one of the longest and hardest in recent memory or that as a ying-yang result, this spring promises an erotic pay-off of the highest order.
Which is sure to be a slow-burn thing, a personal warming that cannot be summed up in a column or headlines such as “The Great Thaw of ’08,” or screaming editorials like, “You can have Paris, I’ll take Minneapolis in the springtime.” No. Springtime in Minnesota is a time to meander off by yourself and drink in the majesty of whatever new life you happen to happen upon; it is best ushered in with a patient sigh that soon enough will turn into the moans of summer.
I’m thinking about all this today because I don’t know of another place on the planet where the seasons are as starkly defined as they are in Minnesota, and because I just got back from a trip to Duluth with my wife and kids and dog. We walked on the magnificent rocks of Lake Superior and watched the ice caps crash to shore. We watched seagulls and kites couple on the horizon. We went to the aquarium, where a tank of frisky sea horses did their billowing mating ritual. Speaking of eroticism.
I also stumbled on an early-evening hootenanny in the Amazing Grace coffee shop. Tin whistles, fiddles, banjos, acoustic guitars, and even a clog dancer took over the joint, but they weren’t professionals. They were farmers, bearded and ashen and freeze-dried and all coming with the no-nonsense look of people waiting to clean out their snow-dilapidated barns and till the land. To this city kid, their cozy party felt like one last get-together before crop time begins, and it reminded me that around these parts we’re all just farm kids, no matter how much the big city has sucked the soul out of us.
More than anything, all that water and expansiveness made me want to pay my respects one more time to Lake Harriet before she melts and gets busy. I spent a lot of time walking across her this winter. There really is nothing like it — all that frozen wildlife beneath you, all the solitude of a snow-covered lake, especially at night, with the whipping wind serving as constant reminder that you could freeze to death out there. But it’s worth the risk, especially when you consider the sight of blurry toasty homes on the shore, and an off-leash black dog streaking across the white horizon, free as anything has ever been.
Almost as free as 72-year-old poet Mary Oliver, who said on a recent Sunday night at the State Theatre that her secret to staying creative is, “Get up in the morning.” Oliver is the queen of paying attention, the grand dame of slowing down, being one with nature, and stopping to smell the, well, everything. So it was only fitting that she would usher in the lilac time by saying, “As we are standing on the shoulder of two seasons, I’d like to share a poem about spring.”
And so she did. And then another, and another. And while many of Oliver’s poems celebrated the season we are rushing unleashed and headlong into, none heralded it quite so sweetly as a neighborhood sign that encourages the citizenry to get down and dirty, and it’s about damn time.
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet.