Before they had gone up to bed they had turned on the TV to hear the weather forecast from Fargo. Temperatures hovering around freezing overnight. Sleet and ice expected. Treacherous driving in morning. Be careful on the interstates. A little colder up in north central.
He awoke in the middle of the night to the rustle of rain on the snowy roof, like soft gravel falling. He heard his wife stir beside him. “Rain,” he murmured. “Mmm,” she said. “Well, no ice in the morning.” He said, “Hope not.” And then turned over.
In the morning the yard was still full of snow but there were dark puddles in the holes boots had made between the house and garage and along the driveway. Long icicles hung from the eaves, water dripping from their bottoms. The rain was still falling, gently. The snow in the fields looked gray. Stubble poked up through the drifts, visible for the first time in weeks.
Across the fields, out of sight of the house, a section is fences by old rails strung between with wire. Irregular and ragged posts, they bend slightly toward the east, away from the wind, bent as the lines of trees marking fields and trying to break the wind are bent hard to the east. From the line of fenceposts the earth banks down slightly. Dark water is pooling there, slowly pulling in the piles of snow surrounding, pulling it into a widening pool. It laps around a stubbled stand of brown grass. The snow cups the pool, slowly falling into it. More grass appears.
A flicker alights atop a fencepost, the white and black mottling on its feathers and the orange cap at the back of its head bright against the gray day. It’s early for a flicker and it seems to be alone. It leans over the post, looking down, its long pointed beak hanging over as it looks at the pooling water. It straightens and looks out across the wet fields and flutters away, its bright colors quickly lost in the gray rain.
The rain continues and the pool grows, extending fingers away into the folds of the land. One finger finds a lip in the ground and begins to spill: a first stream. The day grows into afternoon and the trickle becomes a stream, slowly meandering and bending downhill toward a draw that has carved into the gentle roll of the prairie. The trickle joins water in the draw and now it is a creek, flowing. The creek has no name but flows into Pie Creek, which rambles along the town’s edge and finally through its middle to where it joins the larger creek, Cottonwood Creek, which rolls eastward, collecting water now into a real stream, gathering as it drops down into the gorge toward the Pembina, flowing now as a small river, which drops off the high prairie down into the Red River Valley and into the Red itself, then turning north toward Winnipeg and the broad calm lakes of southern Manitoba. The water is flowing. Spring is coming. Slowly, but coming.