Spring’s sweet smells

One of my favorite authors, Margaret Attwood, said, “in the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” I’m totally with you on that, Margaret, and lately with all that sap rising I’ve not only smelled like dirt, but also Windex and furniture polish as I’ve gone about the yearly ritual of spring cleaning.

I started the process this year with the outside, gathering up all the dead brown leaves that were smothering the emerging tulips and daffodils. The unseasonably warm temperatures had me down to a T-shirt in quick order, my jacket hanging on the fence post. The cats, Jake and Otis, joined me in the backyard, frisking after an early butterfly or dashing up the trunk of the curly willow tree and hiding in the branches like some kind of jungle cat. They nibbled on the newly emerging lawn — maybe as a spring tonic? — throwing up once they were back inside, adding to my cleaning chores.

Tackling the back porch is the least favorite part of the process, dismantling the pile of chairs and a picnic table under the tarps, along with numerous flowerpots and garden tchotkes, including a plastic pink flamingo. This is when I discover that the wooden bench could stand a fresh coat of white paint, but also that several containers of herbs happily made it through the winter. The front window box is finally cleared of Christmas greenery, long since turned brown, and pansies fill the void.

When it comes time to turn my attention and back muscles to the inside of the house, the first order of business is to throw open all the windows to get rid of the winter funk. Dust mop in hand I quickly gather up enough cat fur to build another animal and as I shake the mop from the upstairs porch I hope the neighbors aren’t blinded by the dust storm and label me a terrible housekeeper. Curtains get taken down and washed; the windows receive a little elbow grease so the sun comes through unimpeded.

The rugs are gathered and shaken from the back porch, the cobwebs are cleared from the corners and I’m thinking that there’s still a lot of spring remaining to take care of the messy closets and the even messier basement. I’m going to need a junk hauler, but the guy down the street said he has a buddy with a truck who’s in that line of work.

Lunch is a quick bag of microwave popcorn and I remember the springtime foods my grandmother used to cook up as an antidote to all that heavy food eaten through the winter. She called her tonics “good for what ails you.” Top on the list was dandelion — the tender greens bathed in sweet and sour bacon dressing. She also favored sassafras tea and rhubarb. You put some rhubarb and a ton of sugar between two pie crusts, cut yourself a generous slice and you’re ready to clean two houses.

But at the moment not even a slice of rhubarb pie will give me a boost. I turn on the hot water in the tub, squirt in some bath stuff and a handful of Epsom salts then ease my sore carcass into all that comfort. Smelling like dirt has its attraction, but so too does the sweet aroma of lavender.


—Nancy Luse writes from Frederick, Md., where her corner of the world is a little neater and cleaner.

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