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Spring has sprung
Spring is a confused season in Canada. One day you might need sunscreen, the next day you're snowshoeing through the tulips. It's a confused time at McGill as well: even as the campus springs to life -- new flowers, budding trees and greening grass -- the pace slows down as most of McGill's students bid farewell to the University for another summer.
Human beings -- even those at McGill -- are basically animals, and can be just as affected by the seasons. "Spring Fever" -- that giddy rush of energy that comes with longer and warmer days -- is something most experience to some degree. Although it isn't a psychiatric disorder, the changing of the seasons can have a profound effect on our lives.
Dr. A.M. Ghadirian, director of the Mind Disorders Clinic at the Allan Memorial Institute, said a few people who suffer from SAD -- seasonal affective disorder, a depressive disorder brought on by the shorter days of winter -- can be adversely affected by spring.
"With these patients, their mood improves, and they become hyper, with high energy -- they're almost in a hyper-manic state," said Ghadirian.
Most of us don't go that far -- just a little giddiness and a strong urge to get outside. With that in mind, athletics department recreation director Jill Barker has started a walking club for staff and faculty. The dozen or so members of the club take 45 minutes to walk up the mountain during lunch break. Athletic gear is not required but Barker said, "The goal is to work up a sweat.
"We had a walking club in the winter and fall semester, but they were inside the fieldhouse on the track. This is very exciting that they're able to go outside and enjoy the fresh air, and of course the mountain is beautiful this time of year," said Barker.
Many of the summer courses available at the gym are filling up fast -- part of our urge to emerge from our hibernation period.
"In general, people are more inclined to be active and like to work off that winter weight," said Barker.
Flowers are often a harbinger of spring, but given that Montreal can get snow as late as May, the first buds may not appear as soon as we'd like. At McGill, the floral schedule is dictated by convocation as much as by nature, as the University campus will provide the backdrop for thousands of pictures snapped by proud parents and jubilant graduates.
"We put it upon ourselves to get campus ready for convocation," said Angelo Tambasco, supervisor of grounds and vehicle maintenance. "We haven't started planting because the temperature still isn't ideal."
Flowerbeds are being prepared now with soil and fertilizer. Hopefully, with the right combination of perennials and annuals, the gardens around campus will provide a colourful setting for graduation snapshots.
Tambasco has the complicated task of making sure that McGill's outdoor spaces on the downtown campus are both safe and visually attractive -- his 17 staff are responsible for looking after the walkways, clearing snowfall, picking up garbage, and maintaining green spaces. Unlike any other season, the fluctuating weather of springtime means they have to be prepared to do all of this at once.
Giovanni Nuzzi, the director of facilities and building management, said that in addition to maintaining green spaces -- which includes saving trees in the way of new construction -- the grounds department tries to add certain intangibles to the McGill environment.
"We enjoy walking around campus in the spring or early summer and seeing students and professors stop to smell the roses," said Nuzzi.
The groundskeepers also try to prevent less pleasant odours. McGill sometimes plays host to four-legged visitors, including skunks. Stroll around the residences right now and you might see an industrious groundhog digging itself a home on McGill soil. Raccoons often visit campus as well, usually in search of a trash buffet. These are live-trapped and released several kilometres outside the city.
Though groundhogs can supposedly predict the onset of spring in February, we're lucky if we can do it for tomorrow. The extremes of weather Montreal has experienced in the past month are not unusual at this time of year, according to atmospheric and oceanic sciences professor Jacques Derome.
"I think it's part of the capricious behaviour of the atmosphere," he said, explaining that the temperature variation from the Equator and the North Pole is at its greatest at this time of year.
"You have one blob from the north, one blob from the south. One comes from an extremely cold region and one from a very warm region. And therefore you have a greater chance of these highly different neighbours meeting in the middle latitudes," he said.
The capricious weather actually has worked somewhat in favour of those gardeners who might have been digging their daffodils out from Montreal's late snows. The Morgan Arboretum annual gardening sale has been extended another week due to inclement weather. Aspiring green thumbs can pick up whatever flora suits their fancy at Macdonald campus.
"It's all plant material that's a little different. There's a lot of things you don't see in the garden centres -- magnolias, rhododendrons, azaleas, fruit trees," said forest operations manager John Watson. "It's to give the members of the arboretum something back on their membership."
The members will be giving something back too -- the annual sale features a Sunday auction of donated plants that will raise money to fund a summer job for a McGill student.
Summer jobs are on the mind of a lot of students at this time of year -- advertisements bloom on job-posting boards in spring like leaves on trees. However, students rarely get any advice on how to get the employment they want. With that in mind, Career and Placement Services (CAPS) has a job-finding club that helps students learn the techniques they need to land their dream job. Getting into the club is almost as difficult as getting a job in the first place.
"We sign a contract of engagement that states what our responsibilities are and what their responsibilities are. There's a preliminary interview, and they need to fill out an application," explained Janice Tester, the club coordinator. She said finding a job is full-time work, and the CAPS club wants the dozen or so students who sign up to put in their best effort to achieve their goals.
Job-finding club member Melissa Garcia-Lamarca is up to the challenge. Even with a degree and impressive work experience, she has so far been unable to land a job in her chosen field.
"I'd been using all my contacts and I feel like I've been doing everything right, but nothing's happened," said Garcia-Lamarca. "I think [the club] is going to be really good for me to stabilize my long-term goals."
Even as some are leaving university for the working world, thousands of young people are trying to decide which university they will attend in September. Convincing them to choose McGill is the job of Jennifer Peterman in the admissions and recruitment office. Peterman runs a program called YIELD that has student volunteers give up their evenings in order to call students who have been accepted into McGill. YIELD runs during the critical period between acceptances being mailed out and the final deadline to register.
"Students who get these calls really appreciate that it's a student from McGill that's calling them. They get to ask about what they really want to know -- the ins and outs of campus life -- that they wouldn't ask an employee," said Peterman.
Some of the things potential students want to know about are the residences, which are a veritable hive of activity in spring. Once all of the students are gone, the work of residence staff turns to clean-up and making repairs before the buildings are turned into temporary hotels that will host Grand Prix fans, Alouettes pre-game dinners, and even wedding receptions over the summer.
As a goodbye to departing students, the residences arranged a series of farewell theme meals. The final meal before exams was a Caribbean dinner -- complete with a limbo contest.
"We brought a new group of musicians with steel drums, and they came in and played throughout the whole meal period," said Susan Campbell, manager of residence food services.
Shaking off the layers of winter often leads to a frenzy of spring cleaning -- which means garage sales. Students Jeff Hébert (U1 Anatomy and Cell Biology) and Timothea Leung (U2 Sociology) organized a major end-of year-sale in the Shatner building. The duo hoped the late April event would help students wishing to pare down their packing, or complete their "Dogs Playing Poker" print collections. As with all such sales, there were some eyebrow-raising items. The most interesting?
"I'd have to say it was a bag of used crayons. It's either that, or the postcard we sold [of a] decapitated moose," said Leung.
For his part, Hébert admired the entrepreneurial spirit of his fellow students -- one of whom found a futon in an alley.
"He brought it in and it sold for $30. Way to make some easy cash!" he said.
On the last day of exams, rez students also got to enjoy eating al fresco at an old-fashioned barbecue. However, the spring tradition of picking bugs out of burnt meat can't wait until April for some dedicated McGill "grillistes."
"I personally had my first barbecue of the year in January," said D.J. Sully, president of McGrill International Barbecue Club. The MIBC was founded last year by the gregarious U2 political science student and a few friends with a love for all things grilled.
"We will grill what no man has grilled before, within the constraints of the laws of the land," said Sully. He said spring is an ideal time for the primal tradition of throwing meat on a fire.
"The winter we spend layering ourselves, and when spring comes we can immerse ourselves in the joys of a natural existence... among which is a fine cut of meat."