The smell of spring

It is spring today. Not because the grass is growing.
Not because the trees are straining to burst into leaf. Not because the pussy willows have come and gone as has the maple syrup.
Not even because the frogs are singing to me at night, my window lifted enough to let the frogs’ voices come in and play in my dreams.
Not for any of those signs, though they are lovely accessories to the announcement.
It is spring because I can smell it, just as I did when I was young, so much younger than I am now, when the soil was turned over and the fragrance found its way to my nose. That is when I knew spring had finally arrived.
I didn’t know then what I know now. I only knew that when my father squatted next to the field and filled his right hand with what I called dirt and then held it up to his nose, his eyes closed, his shoulders softened, that he had an important message to share.
“It’s alive,” my father said. “The soil is alive.”
I didn’t question his statement, didn’t ask for proof. His interpretation was good enough for me. I trusted him on all matters and if he said the soil was alive, that meant it was.
Now, I know that the fragrance is created by soil-dwelling bacteria, Actinomycetes. The bacteria are happiest when the soil is wet and warm.
As the earth warms and dries the bacteria produces spores that release that lovely smell of Spring.
When spring rain falls, those spores are produced again, rising up into the air by the force of the falling rain, right into our noses.
The skunks and raccoons are well aware it is spring and are very busy in my yard and paddock. They come out every night and are like living roto-tillers.
They have turned over a huge swaths of the grass that is poorly, exposing the grubs they like to dine on. The crows come during the day as do the robins and have a feast of worms and who knows what else, made easier by the work of those busy nighttime marauders.
I’m sure the smell alerts those animals who then begin their tasks. Though my yard looks messy at first glance, the diggers only go where the soil and grass has been weakened, where the moss is winning the race.
Perhaps this is exactly what they are meant to do. It means more clean up for me, but I’m not sure it is a bad thing.
I didn’t care what caused the smell when I was a child, I don’t really care now, except about the power of the message the soil is transmitting to others, not just us.
“Life begins again,” my dad said, and I have no doubt that it was that very cycle of life that called him to farm, to be a farmer, the same longing that ached in my heart and still does.
The cycle of life indeed.