Our Lives: 'Little spring' is wonderful time of the season

John Valentine.
John Valentine.

My good dog Gus is Mr. Enthusiasm. He knows that when I drive down the driveway, splashing gravel, racing the sunset, I’m leaning into the last turn just to see him before the night curtain spoils our outdoor fun.

The UPS and FedEx drivers get the same treatment. It’s Gus’ world. Why else would anyone turn down our road and come by to visit? His swinging baseball bat-sized tail signals his happiness and readiness to have a good time.

Each night he faces east as the moon rises, nervously howling back at his long-lost brothers, the coyotes. He’s a big, happy dog, exactly where he wants to be all the time, poised and ready, always in the point position.

He’s most happy when it’s 58 degrees. Scientific fact: 58 degrees is the cusp between too cool to come uncurled out of his dog house and too hot to work up a sweat. When I come down the back steps to walk down a path, if it’s 58 degrees, he is so excited, he just can’t stand still.

We call it his “Go Macky Go” state, named after another sweet dog of ours long since passed. At the right temperature, he would just start running in wider and wider circles, faster and faster, as we cheered him on. His excitement was infectious; we loved the energy and shared in it.

Gus will race around the house, around the garden, up and down the path to the creek, around his pile of sticks. His little sister goes catatonic when he’s in his race-car mode. Triple her size, he’s a bit too frisky for her as he waves 4-foot-long branches in her face or tugs away her favorite pillow, growling a loud, playful, provocative “Bet you can’t catch me.”

These days we celebrate with Gus the arrival of Little Spring in North Carolina.

While the rest of the country waits for Big Spring in a few months, we are gifted with green already once or twice a week. Winter’s grays and browns are showing twinkles in their creases. It’s all out there ready to be noticed. On a frosty morning, the low sun reflects rainbows off a broad swath of misty moss.

A neighbor’s strawberry patch, a gorgeous half-acre grid of green against the surrounding empty corn fields and wavy pastures, looks like a welcoming mirage in the distance. Even the curious cows that ring its border call to mind some kind of staged dream sequence, moving in slow motion in the hazy distance.

Oh, sure, we’ve had our share of mid-season adventures, reminding us that while the circle may be unbroken, it can take some unexpected twists. A bullfrog showed up in the bedroom one morning. We spent a Friday night in the ER.

One bleary, overcast dawn, half-asleep, I tossed out the wood ashes and the cloud cascaded over our fresh spinach and kale beds, missing my target by 6 feet.

A zipper broke, a truck died. One night after a reflective family dinner, my sand-and-surf daughter bemoaning the fact that her job took away 90 percent of her California sun, I printed out a “2015 Daylight Duration Table” to remind us how things work. Today, we get 10 hours and 3 minutes of daylight. A few weeks ago, we were at 9 hours, 43 minutes. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, life goes on! And the extra daylight is that reminder.

Little Spring arrives when you go to the shop to get your chainsaw chain sharpened at same time as your lawn mower blade. Little Spring is when you start seeing new wildflowers. You start the day with four layers and end it with one. You go back to cold-brewed iced coffee and put away your boring old sweaters too soon.

I know Little Spring is its own mirage. Like the rest of the country, we’ll get our due – ice storms in February, a freak snowstorm in March. The pipes might freeze, the driveway will be covered in black ice. Heck, we might even run out of milk and bread!

But for now, it’s 58 degrees, our old chickens are ruffling their new feathers and laying again, and Gus is at the door, shaking his bright orange reflective collar, ready to go splash in the creek and rustle up some deer.

Just give me a few moments to get my favorite boots and sweatshirt. We’ll be gone awhile.