From where I’m sitting at my desk, I notice the movement around the birdhouse in the oak out front. A tiny bird–a Carolina chickadee–peeks out the round hole at the front, disappears back inside, and then reappears a second later. Then it flies from the birdhouse, where chickadees have nested every spring since we placed it in the tree seven or eight years ago and disappears from sight. Carolina chickadees are slightly smaller than black-capped chickadees because they don’t need the extra weight to survive our mild Carolina winters. They spend the year in this area, which means I spend a lot of time watching them out my window.
Outside, it’s all nesting birds, daffodils, dogwood blossoms, and, of course, pollen. Everything is covered in yellow pollen that disperses in clouds as the wind blows through the pine trees. You can dust it off your shoulders after being outside. Spring comes fast in the Lowcountry. Overnight. You go to bed one winter day, and then wake up to a warm, dust-covered world. Spring comes so fast that the pictures I took on a walk two weeks ago look look like winter compared to what I see outside today. Everything is much more colorful this week. The oaks, overnight it seemed, have sprouted bright green, brand-new leaves. One day, you couldn’t tell a dogwood from any other tree, and the next they’re the prettiest trees in the landscape. Spring, you’ve taken me by surprise.
Inside, we’ve been spring cleaning. Or, I’ve been cleaning and bribing the other people who live here to help me. In either case, the stove has been scrubbed, the baseboards have been detailed with a toothbrush (by my kid…who wants to earn money!?), and a load of donations have been dropped off at the charity thrift store.
Something about spring, every year I get the same buzz from turning up the music and cleaning like mad. This year, it’s been Abbey Road and Emotionalism. Last year I went on a pretty serious all-natural kick–I think my crunchiness level rose from like a six to an eight–and so this year I didn’t have to buy a single cleaning product from The Man to make the house shine.
Everyone spent a large part of this past weekend cleaning, in fact. I’m sorry but I can’t help myself: It was clean, family fun! I felt like I was living a chapter from Little House on the Prairie, with everyone doing their own little jobs. And of course, there’s nothing so satisfying as a clean house. It took me many years to figure out the whole domesticity thing, and I’m no expert. But sometimes my acquired passion for a good clean surprises even myself. What’s most surprising about spending the weekend cleaning is that, no matter how much we’ve done, I can still look around and see so much more we need to do. Life is, as they say, maintenance.
So while the chickadees are busy with their housework, gathering the soft moss that grows along the north side of the house and tucking it into their nest, I will be busy finding the filth that’s eluded me since the last deep clean and sneaking outside to watch, astonished as always, as the season brings such rapid and lovely change. And these tiny birds in our birdhouse are–of all the seasonal delights–the best thing about the arrival of spring.
By the way, I scrubbed my kitchen to a shine using nothing but a scrubbing cloth and a paste made of equal parts baking soda, salt, and water. I have no idea what my mother did without the internet. It was like magic.