When I brought my new son, Anton, home from a Ukrainian orphanage a scant three months ago, it was to a world where the rivers and lakes were ice-locked and the land covered in snow. Maine in winter is a thing to behold, and my home is utterly representative of the intensity with which winter exerts itself. From my backyard, down to the floodplain, and out to the Penobscot River beyond, all is a clean, white meld, a landscape united by a common blanket of snow.
What must five-year-old Anton have thought when he beheld this silent, monotonous scene, unbroken by any green, unmarred by the movement of anything save the occasional crow? Did he think he'd been brought to the North Pole?
Despite the heavy snowfalls in the early part of winter, these past couple of weeks have shown a quickening of warmth. It is amazing how fast the snow disappears when the temperature rises. As I walked about my neighborhood, I watched and listened to water cascading from rooftops, and great sopping pillows of snow falling from the pines and landing with a thud.
Anton's quick eyes resonated to the defrosting of winter as well. But he was most taken with the action in our own backyard, where the receding snow (up to mid-thigh not so many days ago) began to reveal evidence of things left undone at autumn's end.
Over there, by the shed, emerged a garden spade I'd meant to put away after having turned over my small plot at harvest time. And there, under the swamp maple, rose the broad, white belly of my canoe, which I had hauled ashore when the first crust of ice began to form at the water's edge. Piles of wood, a stack of planting pots, the cellar door, a white bucket all looked as if they were rising like happy voyagers returning from beneath the surface of the snow.
As for Anton, he derived infinite pleasure from all of this. Just this morning I took him out to the wonderland and watched as he shed his winter coat (the temperature was nudging 50 degrees F.) and delighted in gifts revealed.
With a little help from me, he righted the canoe. Then he jumped in and ran from stem to stern, shouting, "Anton and papa! Together!"
I got in, took a seat, and assured him that, once the river had begun to flow again, we would be out there every day. Then he leaped over the gunwales and ran to the white bucket, which he wrenched from the earth's frozen grip.
From there, it was on to the pots, and then the woodpile. All that was obscured only yesterday was suddenly revealed.
Finally, Anton caught sight of my red wheelbarrow, resting against the garden shed. It, too, had been cloaked in a drift of snow and ice this winter, but now its handles and part of the pan were protruding like the horns of an ice-locked mammoth. Anton took special pleasure in this, perhaps because of the color, the bright red against the bright white.
He pulled at the handles, kicked the pan, but the thing wouldn't budge. He enlisted my assistance, but I couldn't move it. He grew despondent, and I was able to draw him away from his labor only with the promise of hot chocolate.
By the next morning I had completely forgotten about the wheelbarrow. Anton, curiously enough (for young children normally flit from one activity to another with abandon) had not. As soon as he was dressed, he whined until I followed him outside to the wheelbarrow.
I watched as he pulled and kicked the thing again, and I wondered why he was so determined to set it free. The warm night had done its work, though. When I laid hands upon it, the wheelbarrow broke away from the ice.
Anton leaped in front of me, took the handles in his small hands, and grunted and strained to push the thing through the slush. "It doesn't work in snow," I told him repeatedly, but he would have none of it. It was, at the moment, the most important thing in the world for him to be able to push the wheelbarrow through the snow.
Feeling the strain of his efforts, I stood and observed, until slowly, finally, the wheelbarrow rusted, its tire somewhat flat, the axle bent heeded my son's exertions and hee-hawed ahead.
It took Anton a full five minutes to push the wheelbarrow to the other end of the yard, but once he had, he threw up his hands and flashed a broad smile. For reasons unclear to my adult sensibilities, the satisfaction of his heart's desire revolved around something I thought had outlived its usefulness. I immediately called to mind the poem by William Carlos Williams, and wondered if its writing was also inspired by personal experience. It begins:: "so much depends/ upon/ a red wheel/ barrow...."
So much, indeed including Anton's mood, which, from the satisfaction of so simple a desire, remained radiant for the rest of the day.
'The Red Wheelbarrow,' by William Carlos Williams, copyright 1938 by New Directions Publishing Corp. Used with permission.