Journalism: Urbanism: Urban Conditional: The Semiotics of Spring 

April 20, 2017

The Semiotics of Spring  

by Zack Barowitz

About the nicest thing one can say about winters in Maine is that you don’t need to travel too far south to find warmer weather. Spring, though, is somewhat more fickle. There can be glorious warm weather from late April to late June, or there could be cold black rain running just short of Independence Day.

The fact is that we have five seasons in Maine: spring (such that it is), summer, fall, early winter, and late winter (sometimes referred to as tundra season). So to say that spring captures the imagination really means that you need to have a vivid one to recognize the early-year “shoulder” season.

In short, it doesn’t pay to look at weather — or a calendar — to see if spring has arrived. All this makes forecasting spring something of dark art, but the careful observer will make note of the following signs:

The snow piles are black.

You find yourself sweating in your down coat and realize that it's been several months since you’ve washed hats, scarves and mittens which have now turned the color of dried snot. But not to worry, the predominant autumnal browns and winter blacks have been ousted by puffy coats and fleece jackets in vernal hues.

Friends from out of state tentatively ask “is anything blooming up there?” There is an uncomfortable silence after you tell them that you think the forsythia is “just a few weeks away.”

Guys start shaving their winter beards. Some look almost young again. Women consider shaving their legs and bikini options.

Public Works sends out guys with backpack blowers to collect the street sand laid down from winter. What happens to that sand is a mystery, but lord knows our beaches can use them.

You decide that you are feeling well enough to go off your meds for a while.

Your house needs to be painted but your painter informs you that she isn’t available until October.

The snow melts exposing a season’s worth of dog shit on the neighbor’s lawn. This is thankfully a short-lived phenomena as the fecal matter merges into the mud in a matter of a few days — unless it snows again.

It is harder to get a table at restaurants.

You begin to contemplate a diet and gym membership.

Crust punks start arriving by freight train from New Orleans, but their appearance is more of a cameo before they head south again and return in July.

You no longer feel guilty for forgetting to put away the long furniture for winter.

A puffy jacket and a shorts seems like a sensible outfit and not just for letter carriers.

You call Unitil to have them shut off your gas, thus saving yourself the monthly $23 “service fee.” (You do know that you can do this don’t you?)

You regret having turned off the heat “so early.”

You open a window (this might necessitate first removing the plastic film).

Stores start being open on Sunday.

Out of town friends start contacting you, vaguely inquiring about summer plans. You decide to remove the cat little box from the guest room.

It is still light out after dinner.

You ask things like “What are ramps and how do you cook them?”

People start complaining about “all the tourists.”