Every year, in the very early spring, a little pond forms in the front of our yard. As the snow melts along the driveway, the water collects in a low spot, pooling around the trees and bushes. Ice clings to the edges of the drive, holding the water in place for a while, but slowly retreating as the sun warms and the earth reappears. The pond is cold and murky, filled with rotting leaves and broken branches. It is perfect for stirring with a big stick. It is a magnet for little boys.
There were many spring days in the past when my sons would put on their boots and march forth into the icy water. I always knew that the boots, worn down by the long winter, were the slimmest protection from the frigid water, but I felt like I was doing my duty by insisting that they be worn. I would watch from the yard, and later from the window, as the boys splashed through the slush, searching for treasure. Soaked feathers, dead flowers, rotting mushrooms and blackened oak leaves floated to the surface as little feet stirred up the bottom. Sometimes they would find a surprise: an old mitten, a broken cup, a plastic army man, covered in dirt and slime. I can hear their piping voices, filled with excitement as they called to each other in the cold spring afternoons. I can picture them as they came inside, hands and feet red with cold, socks and pants dripping wet. I can smell the cold clean air clinging to their skin, carried in on their hair.
Yesterday I went outside, walking along the icy drive. I walked past the garden, over the slushy patches of old and dirty snow, my feet slipping and squelching as I went. I came to the edge of the vernal pond. Reaching out with one booted toe, I poked gently at the shallow water. A cloud of black arose from the bottom, curling up and around the toe of my boot, dislodging a piece of oak leaf that floated to the surface. I stood still for a minute, listening, but all was silent and still. I took in a deep breath of the dying winter, tasting the sharp metallic cold on my lips. One long last look at the blue gray water, and I turned away. Back inside, back to the fire.