If we were having coffee this morning, we could giggle and chatter about the joys of spring here in Michigan. The crocuses, the daffodils, and the potholes that have bloomed everywhere. The end of my self-imposed winter hibernation. The beginning of my state’s most extended and well-known season: Construction.
For me, the surest sign of spring is the return of the robin, our state bird. When I was a kid, my aunt Marian taught us to “stamp” robins. She would lick her right thumb, press it into her left palm, and then turn her right hand over and pound her fist into her left palm, shouting out a number.
In theory, she was counting the robins because counting and stamping one hundred robins each spring was supposed to guarantee good luck for the upcoming year. In reality, we all suspected that Marian cheated. We didn’t mind, though, because we all cheated too. It was just too hard to keep accurate running totals in our minds. After hitting one hundred, most of us kept on stamping a few surplus robins just to make sure we really hit a hundred.
The best part of stamping robins with Aunt Marian was calling her every spring to tell her when we saw our first robin. She’s been gone seven years now, but I still reach for the phone when I see the first one, only to remind myself that she’s in heaven, probably lying to the angels about how many robins she’s stamping at that very moment.
My kids have never gotten into the whole business of stamping and counting, but they’ve caught my enthusiasm for spotting the first robin each year. One morning a few weeks ago, as my boys and I were leaving for school, my youngest started bouncing around in the back seat and squealing “Robin! Robin!”
“Where?” I demanded.
“Never mind. It was a cardinal,” he said sheepishly.
For the record, it was a mourning dove.
What he lacks in in knowledge of birds, he makes up for in enthusiasm. Of course, his older brother now feels the need to tease him by randomly shouting out the names of other birds. “Ostrich!” he’ll bellow. “Emu! Pelican! Never mind,” he’ll say, pointing at the nearest mourning dove. “It was a cardinal.”
The robin is more than just part of my family’s weird traditions. He is also a symbol of hope, of new beginnings. A sign of better things to come. His red breast is thought by some to represent the rising of the sun, the dawning of a new day.
I like that.
In one of my favorite books, The Secret Garden, little Mary befriends a helpful robin who leads her to the garden door and the hidden key that unlocks its secrets. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the book, the garden appears to be cold and abandoned, just like Mary; but a little bit of hope and attention bring both the child and the plants to full, vibrant life.
Dickon, the boy who learns her secrets and guides her along the way, shows her how a seemingly dead plant can still have a little life deep inside. He says they are “wick”– alive, or lively.
Every spring, when I see my first robin, I think of that moment in The Secret Garden, when lonely little Mary follows the robin and finds the key to her own inner springtime. I think of Mary, and I think of Marian, and I know that somewhere, even on the very worst days, there is a part of me that is “wick.”
Take a moment this week to look for the signs of spring that mean the most to you. Count your robins, pick a daffodil or too, have a picnic. Whatever it takes, get out there and welcome spring with open arms and remember that you, too, are “wick” inside, no matter how dark the winter has been.
And if that fails, you can always try counting one hundred robins for good luck.
Be sure to visit Diana over at Part-Time Monster to link up and see what some other bloggers have had to say with their weekly coffee share. Thanks to Diana for hosting the #coffeeshare posts!