Finally, after weeks suspended between seasons, the barren brown earth had at last yielded to a happier palette. Dots of yellow and splashes of fuchsia and orange appeared randomly. Forsythia bushes lined the sidewalks in lemon. Daffodils stood at attention, trumpeting the arrival of warmer weather. Encouraged by a welcoming sun, the hyacinths surfaced, adding a dash of purple to the canvas and perfuming the air with their delicate fragrance. Early tulips reached languidly out of the ground, tightly coiled but for hint of pastel. The hardier pansies were already proliferating.
The previous night, a light breeze had stirred the branches of the fruit trees, encouraging them to display their spring wardrobes. This morning, pear trees were wrapped in clouds of white, and apple trees wore petals of palest pink. Even the cherry trees got into the act, their cotton puff blossoms peeking out from fresh buds. It was more than enough to send Robin into flights of giddiness.
“This is SO beautiful, absolutely the most amazing day!” she cried out, stopping for just a minute to turn her head from side to side. “I mean; have you ever SEEN anything like it?” Then she was off again.
The old-timers looked knowingly at one another. They’d learned not to trust the promise of a lovely morning. Veterans of seasons past, they were more likely to reflect on premature frosts or persistent droughts. Robin wasn’t interested in their practical cynicism. For her, the world was new, filled with wonder and possibility. Let those stuffed shirts sit and complain. She was having none of it.
Instead she danced in circles on the emerald grass and hopped between the flowerbeds. She was in ecstasy. “Yellow!” she sang. “Pink, purple, orange, green, blue. Look at how blue the sky is. It could not be more perfect!”
Glancing around, she announced, “I’m going to smell the blossoms,” and flitted over to the nearest pear tree, where she leaned in and inhaled deeply.
She stopped then, caught between confusion and a hint of desperation.
“I can’t smell it. Why can’t I smell it? Is there something wrong with me?” Now she looked around anxiously.
“No, it’s not you,” Jay called out from his perch on the fence. “The smell is really subtle. Try the apple tree across the street. You’ll catch a scent over there.”
“Okay, let me try that.”
She disappeared into a swirl of pink and white. He imagined he could hear her filling her tiny lungs with the intoxicating fragrance.
“Oh, that’s so much better. Yes, this is more like it. Thanks, Jay!”
“Wait until the lilacs start to bloom,” he responded encouragingly. “Or the spice bushes. Of course, it’ll be greener then; you won’t have the same color intensity. Nothing beats spring.” He paused to consider. “Although I’d have to say autumn is pretty special, too.”
“Better than spring?” Robin asked, her head still buried in the blossoms.
“Hmm, maybe not better, but different. Autumn colors are mellower.” Jay reached for the words to paint a picture, so she might see the season as he did. “They’re not light and airy but deeper, richer. It’s as if the world was painted with copper, bronze or gold, precious metals that saturate the trees, the ground, even the sky.”
“It sounds really pretty.”
“It’s simply beautiful. Wait until you see it. My father told me autumn was Mother Nature’s big fling, her farewell gesture. She pulls out her most expensive palette and lights the place on fire. One last hurrah before she . . .”
He broke off when he noticed she’d left the tree and hopped up onto the fence by his side. Now she was looking at him with bright, inquisitive eyes, her head cocked.
“What are you talking about, Jay?” she asked. “How come you look sad? What happens after the big party? Is it something bad? What does Mother Nature do?”
Jay wished he could kick himself for going on. He reached out and gave her head a little pat.
“You know what?” he said lightly. “It’s not important. Why even think about autumn when it’s spring? It’s a beautiful day. Go on and enjoy it.” And he waved her away.
He watched her take off to chase butterflies. Filled with the energy and innocence of youth. Not that Jay was all that much older, but he was far more experienced, and he was tired. Glancing at his reflection in the window, he saw that he was big for his age, broad across the chest and strong from years of exercise. His reputation for aggression may have been exaggerated, but it had seen him through a number of seasons, some gentle and others much less so. In fact, he’d endured several long, lean winters by being more than willing to put himself first. That’s what his kind did—which was why they generally outlasted the others.
Jay wasn’t a fool. He knew he was in constant danger. They all were. Tough as any one of them might be, there was always something bigger, faster, stronger, and more deadly. His siblings survived by being opportunists and bullies. He tried to resist those impulses, which only made him even more of an outcast. He accepted it all: his strength, his personality quirks, and his general lot in life.
Robin was a different story. She was open and trusting, a breath of fresh air in his cruel and capricious world. He liked being around her even though her innocence sometimes made his heart ache. She seemed so defenseless. He’d watched over her since she was born and had kept danger at bay. But there was only so much he could do.
The statistics told the story. Most robins didn’t survive their first year; and she, tiny and with an underdeveloped set of wings, would not last even that long. There would be a cat, a car or—he hung his head in shame—a bullying blue jay that would make short work of her. Or some other force of nature would do her in. She might never see an autumn glowing like molten metal or marvel at a single snowflake. Instead, she would likely perish along with many other fledglings doomed to die in a winter they’d forgotten how to flee.
Why did Mother Nature have to be so cruel?
He heard Robin singing. There was no bitterness in her sweet music. Ignorance is bliss, Jay thought and then, and why not? He shook himself and lifted his head to the warm sun.
In the distance, Robin lifted a wing and called out, “See? Best spring ever.”