Sunday, April 22, 2007

What takes my breath away?

There are so many things it's almost impossible to tell you - but maybe because it's different things on different days I can narrow it down a little.

It's April 22 and that means something to me. Just last year - believe it or not - I realized that although I'd always considered September to be my favorite month of the year, April was starting to become a close second, if not actually winning the race to be favorite. Maybe it's because I'm getting older and I appreciate the spring more, but I think, actually, now that I'm writing about it here, it's that I've been out of a school for a long time.

I'm sure all of you, having spent part of your life going to school, know what I mean when I say September used to be the beginning of the year for me. A new school year (college, university, whatever) meant I got new school supplies, new clothes, new ideas and insight. And September, wherever I've been living (Vancouver, Kelowna, Toronto) has always been a beautiful month. Still warm, but no longer too hot, the tourists are, for the most part gone. And the skies are gorgeous.

But April? I know the quote - April is the cruellest month - but I don't believe it. Not anymore.

I look out my window today and it's cloudy, yes, a little windy, but it's definitely absolutely completely spring. And that includes many things that take my breath away...

The daffodils and tulips - brilliant yellows and oranges and reds - lining the streets. The cherry blossoms, palest of pale pinks, drifting down to the street in a sweet soft replica of winter's icy snow. The lovely pale greens of the new leaves on the trees, the almost fluorescent yellow of the dandelions before the gardeners get to them.

And the smells? Oh my god, the smells of spring. The sweetness of hyacinths, the lovely dankness of the manure spread on flowerbeds, the salty enchantment of the spring breezes carrying in over the ocean. The chlorine of the outdoor pools.

And the sounds? The giggles of children enjoying the mild weather. The thump-thump of the runners' pounding feet as they practice for the marathon. The dogs barking as they dash in and out of the water. The bells of bicycles as tourists and residents alike take to the Seawall.

But most of all, spring means birds - songbirds, baby ducks and geese, swans, blackbirds, and most especially, the great blue herons. They're everywhere at this time of year, flying like great pterydactyls across the sky, standing motionless in the shallows waiting to pounce on a frog or a fish, hurrying home in the early evening to their nests high in the trees. I think they're lucky birds for me.

The idea for my first published book - DRAGONFLIES AND DINOSAURS - came from a walk around the Seawall one early spring. I started counting herons in the shallows or flying by and realized that my progress was being measured, not by the time it was taking or the distance I was walking, but by the number of herons I was seeing. The line I dreamed up on that walk was:

I measured my progress by great blue herons...

The line in the book changed, but I thought of that walk and those birds the entire time I was writing the book. The line ended up as:

We measured our progress by red-tailed hawks and the iridescent carcasses of dragonflies flickering against the windshield in the warm light of the setting sun.

but the change meant nothing to me. It was always about that walk on the Seawall and those herons. And, to compound my feeling that they're lucky, just before I sold that book, I was sitting in my living room on a rainy day and a heron came down to land on the railing of my balcony. He sat there for almost an hour, and I spent that hour fascinated and almost frightened by the size of him. Wow.

And there's another thing that takes my breath away? Finding that perfect line or phrase. There's nothing like it.


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