Too often, Spring in Toronto passes as a barely noticed argument between winter and smog. For a while, they usually compromise on rain.
Rain in the city is a funny, fascinating thing. As a child, I used to imagine myself a minuscule boatman riding the currents that flow through the city's streetcar tracks. Actually, I still do that. Rain has a way of making a person appreciate things, from warm weather to covered porches, and, with a bit of study, even the ecological singularity of the city itself.
For beings made mostly of water on a planet that contains mostly water, we're not very gracious in receiving it. Rainfall is rebuffed, falling in rivulets from our rooftops (thousands of which are suitable for rain-catching gardens) onto pavement that shunts it to sewers.
If it's lucky, the rainfall will reach a patch of earth first, or a river. But by that time the storm runoff is often more toxic than sewerage, containing motor oil, rubber particles, residues from brake linings, copper, zinc, various other chemicals and metals. And plenty of feces.
By maintaining an impenetrable seal over the soil, pavement also prevents balance in river ecology; flooding results during wet periods, and droughts are more prolonged during dry times.
Trees near pavement have smaller wells on which to draw, putting them under stress and so less able to clean the air.
There are countless such unique relationships in the city's environment - many beneficial, most detrimental, and all fascinating - that invite exploration as our understanding of ecology enters its adolescent years.
For instance, and in keeping with the theme of noxious fumes (a local favourite), how does all the cigarette smoke rising from our blooming patios affect our urban ecology?
The thought seems ridiculous until you consider that cigarettes contain chemicals classified as persistent bioaccumulative toxins. PBTs are cause for concern even in trace amounts precisely because of their persistence. They remain in the bodies and waste of those that encounter them, and so spread throughout an ecosystem far beyond their point of origin.
For many, the other persistence worth worrying about may be that of hay fever.
If ragweed had a phone number, it would be unlisted. The plant tends to get a lot of unkind words around this time of year. But we may want to take our accusatory fingers out from under our noses and point them at ourselves. High carbon dioxide levels like those found in cities have been proven to increase pollen production.
The dandelions in which we're suddenly awash also get more than their share of abuse. Now is the time when many property owners wage fervent campaigns against free salad and coffee - just two of the things you can make with parts of the dandelion (the leaves and roots respectively).
And those yellow heads? We adored them as children but somehow came to mistrust them as we grew up. Maybe that's because they, and those like them, are trying to tell us something. Dandelions flourish in a habitat that we make unnatural, thanks to our obsession with manicured, monocultured lawns.
Many herbs that favour disturbed areas, like dandelions, have medicinal uses. We can see those lion heads as nuisances or as gentle reminders of our seriously stressed surroundings.
Equally ubiquitous are starlings. These imaginative birds that mostly turn up their beaks at rural living share our ability to imitate and adapt, to the point where they incorporate city sounds like mechanical clicks and beeps into their wide range of calls.
More pleasant than their grackle cousins, starlings nonetheless share our reputation for pushiness. They will gang up on smaller animals to claim food, attack eggs in nests and even forcibly evict other birds from their homes.
One hopes they didn't learn too much of that from us. One trait in particular that sounds all too familiar is summed up by a single line in a certain birders' guide: "Eats garbage."
Not that such tastes are always a bad thing. Two weeks ago, arriving home late at night, I heard a rustling as I headed up the walk, a brittle whispering sound, constant and widespread. I sat on the stoop and listened, and noticed the mercifully untouched cover of dead leaves and plants moving.
I realized it was earthworms, probably dozens, feeding on the decay and fertilizing the soil.
It was literally the sound of the earth waking up. You don't hear that if you're busy attacking your lawn, or cursing the rain.