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Subtle signs put a spring in my step

While the northern hemisphere swelters and burns its way through a broiling summer, Melbourne is still deep in the cold season. I continue to resort to my trusty hot water bottle at night, and in the city church where I sometimes go to sit quietly of a lunch time, there is still a population of homeless people sheltering themselves and their meagre belongings from the elements; their gentle snores punctuate my meditations.

But signs of spring are everywhere if you care to look.

I’ve been acutely aware of these this year, having spent five of the last 12 weeks in other countries. I buried my father on the Summer Equinox in Edinburgh; the dawn chorus woke me at three, but there was no dawn really, and no dark, just a pale green kind of luminescence that bordered a pale sky between the hours of midnight and four am.

Upon my return, the first thing I notice is that I now walk to work in daylight, and when my train deposits me at Brunswick station each evening, it is no longer pitch dark. Which is good, as it means I can see the deep pink magnolia tree that is budding there, prompting me to notice my neighbours’ white one, and then I see them everywhere, those so-briefly blooming trees that are so spectacular but that you miss if you fail to pay attention for a fortnight at this time of year.

Once I’ve noticed the magnolias, I start seeing jonquils poking their little blunt heads up into the sky and their big cousins the daffodils are appearing too. The blossoms of various fruit trees are making their presence felt as well – all over city streets delicate white and pink flowers dust leafless branches. My tiny front garden is a carpet of violets.

The harbingers of spring in Melbourne are less showy than their counterparts in the UK and other countries where everything seems dead and grey until, almost overnight, the earth explodes with green and colour. Here the transformation is much subtler and more gradual. Sings of spring start as early as July with the heavy gold of wattle and continue, little by little.

So, particularly in late winter, it pays to be attentive to the natural world that is so evident, even in our bustling, concrete-heavy, traffic laden city. Before the calendar decrees the official start to spring, spring is on its way. It’s worth keeping an eye out for its shy and subtle signs.

This was published in The Melbourne Age on 20 August 2018


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