Cultural Signs of Spring (1)

Here in Michigan, days are getting sunnier, robins will soon be appearing in our yards, and eventually the only remnants of snow will reside at the edges of parking lots where mountains of snow had previously been plowed up. Physical signs aside, there are three cultural indications that it is now springtime in the American Midwest:

  • Mulch bags
  • March Madness
  • Spring cleaning

Today's blog post covers the first sign that spring has come to the American Midwest.

Mulch bags. The corner gas stations stack up palette after palette of yard mulch in see-through plastic bags. This is the sign for do-it-yourself gardeners that it’s time to rake up lawn debris and any recalcitrant leaves that blew into the flower beds after leaf rakes were put away for the winter. Once the beds are prepped, a new layer of mulch gets added to hold in moisture for the plants and to dress up the beds’ appearance. The shredded bark mulch comes in two formats: natural “wood-colored” and tinted (red, black, or dark brown). At my local Speedway station, I know it's spring when the palettes rise over six feet tall and completely obscure the gas pumps from view.


New Vocabulary and Cultural Concepts
robins = the robin is the official state bird of Michigan
remnants = leftover pieces
mulch = shredded organic material from trees, used to top-dress bedding plants and keep moisture in. Another mulching material is ground-up tree branches. The chunks are less consistent in shape and texture, less attractive, sold in bulk (instead of bags), and therefore, less expensive.
palette = a flat wooden form for holding stacked materials, easily picked up and moved by forklift trucks
lawn debris = miscellaneous pieces of trash accumulated under the winter’s snow (sticks, paper, cigarette butts, etc.)
recalcitrant = uncooperative, resistant

Watch this blog for the other two signs that spring is on the way!

Alan Headbloom

Alan advises Americans how to be global citizens and expats how to fit in to Michigan culture without annoying their native coworkers and clients. He also tweets and blogs at the intersection of language and culture. Over decades, he's traveled, studied, or lived on six continents, putting strange foods into his mouth and emitting strange sounds from it. His use of English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Swedish, Hausa, and Japanese all improve with alcohol use. He gives invited public presentations on culture and unsolicited private advice on English grammar and usage; the latter isn't always appreciated. Visit his website for information on consulting, coaching, or speaking engagements.