Just one warm day was all it took, or seemed to take; just one sunny Sunday. The mercury climbed half an inch further up the glass than it has climbed these last three months and suddenly it was spring.
OPINION: Everything quickened: flies, trees, grass, children, butterflies, birds, lawnmowers, hope and kite- riding spiders.
Where the maggots hid all winter I can't tell you. But the moment the temperature rose past a certain trigger point, flies besieged the dog's bone. They clamped on the shreds of flesh and fizzed.
The grass had stood lank and winter dark, but on Sunday you could almost feel it growing. So out from the garages of Lyttelton came a battalion of lawnmowers, their wheels caked dry with last year's clippings.
The engines stuttered and stalled, then kicked into life and the air was filled with their suburban chatter. With it came that most evocative of fragrances, redolent of cricket and gardens and shorts and sunburn and drinks in the shade. For the last three months the beach at Brighton has been a place of surf and driftwood, and the occasional dog-walker hunched against the wind. But on Sunday it grew children, hundreds of children. They appeared as suddenly as the flies. They seemed to have sprouted from the sand, as baby crocodiles were once believed to do.
The children squealed and ran and splashed each other and threw sand, and their clean limbs drank the warmth. You could only smile at their disinhibition, their unself-consciousness, their un-everything that adulthood brings.
Two weeks ago the roads of Lyttelton ran like rivers and it seemed that nothing would ever again be warm or dry. But since then my plum tree and two apricots have thrust out blossom, blossom as white as a lamb and delicate as rice paper. The peach tree is turning mauve and the six flowering cherries I planted in winter are about to burst from brown to pink.
I watched a butterfly, a red admiral that must have sheltered somewhere over winter, perch on the plum tree to feed. I leaned in as close as I could and screwed up my eyes in the hope of seeing the tiny spiral of its tongue, but my eyes have grown too weak. And I remembered when my mother visited once from England and a bellbird sang, a song she had never heard. "Hear that?" I said. "That's a bellbird." My mother cocked her head and strained to hear but she was already old and she heard nothing.
"Is it still singing?" she asked. "Yes," I said.
"Oh," said my mother. "Oh." And her voice was plaintive like a child's.
The sun sets early at my place, diving behind the hills and I sat on the deck on Sunday afternoon to watch it go. It burned warm on my thighs and chest and the air was swimming with insects, their tiny lives fresh-minted, and friends came round and we laughed more than we might have laughed a week ago and all because of the sun.
It was Pete who pointed out the gleaming strands of gossamer that lilted with the slightest shift of air. "Ballooning spiders," said Pete. "They can fly for miles."
I've since looked them up and Pete was right. What certain types of baby spiders do is to climb to the highest point they can reach, then stand on tiptoe to spin their gossamer. Gossamer is stronger than steel yet little heavier than air. A strand of gossamer long enough to circle the earth would weigh only half a kilo. The spiderling puts out several strands at once, strands that the breeze seizes and blows into a shape like a kite. Then the spiderling simply says a quick prayer and lets go, entrusting its fate to the wind in the hope of going somewhere, anywhere.
That somewhere is normally only a minute or two away. But it depends on flight conditions. Kite-riding spiders have been found on weather balloons 5 kilometres up in the sky. They've been caught in the rigging of ships 1000 miles from land. It is kite- riding that has enabled spiders to colonise almost every island on earth.
And that kite-riding, that blind surge of hope, that sense of good things ahead, that willingness to trust that the world is the right way up, though it may be misplaced, is the best of all metaphors for spring, the best named of all seasons. Our calendars should start now. All things seem possible.
- The Press