LOCAL VIEW –Blighted Spring–

It’s been a drudging sort of week, full of duties one doesn’t plan for. Not much is blooming, but perhaps clouds of pollen from southern lands blew north, and everyone began sneezing. Or perhaps it was the common cold passing through town. In any case, who plans for that? It complicates things, and makes you make mistakes. Who plans for that? In your hurry you leave your key in the ignition, on the “on” position, as you are only hurrying inside for five minutes. But five minutes becomes two hours with phone-calls and other stuff, and when you hurry back to your car with an armload of other stuff, and are ready to rocket off, the battery is dead. Who plans for that?

We got by. Yesterday my battery was dead, but I wasn’t late to open the Farm-childcare as I got a quick jump from my wife’s car. Today her battery was dead at the Childcare, but she got a jump from me. To me it seemed very symbolic of how we get by, when we are not at our best.

Personally, I blame the delayed spring. Not that I wasn’t expecting it. Why? I think it was a queer mix of science and intuition and memory. I just noticed how a band of colder weather gave colder winters to places like Mexico and Syria and Thailand, even as places further north got a warmer winter, and I figured that band of colder weather would retreat north and get us. Meanwhile I recalled warm early springs in my past that got clobbered by May snowstorms, the worst being in 1977. Lastly, when you live as far north as New Hampshire, among Finns who immigrated here from much further north, you own a certain caution about warmth in March. Call it pragmatism or call it cynicism, I planted peas earlier than ever, but wasn’t surprised when snows followed, with record-setting cold.

But it needs to be said that such flip-flopping of weather is cruel. I am not being a selfish human, as I say this. It is not merely humans who get blighted. I can offer photographic evidence of the day-lily leaves with brown points, and the daffodils broken by frost.

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Of course these are imported species, (as are Finns and even Yankees like myself), but what really impressed me was a local swamp maple that seemed to get fooled. It formed a purple misted tree, in the post I did about frogs singing early, back in March. Currently it looks like it isn’t even going to start budding. I may do a post about what happens with that tree, but I’ll have to wait and see.

In any case, though spring seemed ready to bust out in March, here it is a month later and the treeline looks pretty leafless.

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However though the spring can be delayed, it cannot be denied. On the blighted lawn purple splashes.

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And a few daffodil were more cautious, and now stand proud for being cowards.

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And the grey fur of the pussy willow suddenly is yellow with pollen.

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And the wiser, more cowardly swamp maples now venture to bloom.

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And these tiny flowers, softening the treeline with a haze of reddish purple, always are worth a closer look.

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However, though my heart is softened by the loveliness, I will not be a sucker and a chump. I remember snows in May. So I look to the black cherry trees. In Washington DC their cherries may be fools, and come out only to be blasted by frost, but I like to think our northern cherries are smarter. And even this late they are only budding.

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So here I stand, betwixt and between. Spring will not be denied, but will not be a dunce.

The trees are distrustful; the very buds
Are reluctant; yet sneaking through the brush
Is a quickening of all creature’s bloods;
A hope that makes the grayest banker blush.

Who are you? Elf or zephyr or angel;
Invisible dancer swirling dead leaves;
You put us all through a long, slow, strange hell
Where the more one doubts the more one believes.

Logic dictates we distrust, and yet you
Seduce us with memories of past times
When you beat back that logic. Can you do
It again? In the face of this world’s crimes
Can you undo the loss of virginity?
Do that, and Oh! What a spring it would be!

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LOCAL VIEW –Wet As It Gets–

A quarter century ago I was the landscaper for a collection of old ladies my wife referred to as “your harem”, and though they are long gone they have left memories scattered about my yard. Below is an early bloomer one lady gave my wife, that she referred to as “miniature marsh marigold”.  Wet 4 IMG_2449

Actually it turns out to be an invasive species, Lesser celandine, (Ficaria Verna), and belongs over in England. Wordsworth wrote a poem about it (“To The Small Celandine”) with this stanza:

Ere a leaf is on a bush,
In the time before the Thrush
Has a thought about it’s nest,
Thou wilt come with half a call,
Spreading out thy glossy breast
Like a careless Prodigal;
Telling tales about the sun,
When we’ve little warmth, or none.

Actually I should scold that old lady for giving us a plant which is currently invading the back lawn and killing the grass. It only lasts until June, and then withers up and leaves a dead-looking place. But I’d rather smile, and remember how that silver-haired hunchback would come out with a cup of tea for me and involve me in discussions about poetry, as I weeded. I figured poetry-talk was an extra benefit of having me as her landscaper. I could chatter as I worked, and it even excused me for the time I stopped working, to sip some tea with dirty hands. Not that she’d ever just fork out the bucks that would have let me skip the weeding, and just write. But I forgave her for that. I think young poets get over that resentment once they are over thirty, and I was pushing forty, though working for old ladies made me feel a lot younger.

In April I’d go from being on the verge of bankruptcy to having too much work, from being disdained to being hugely popular. The old ladies would become wildly ambitious with the first hints of warm weather, and I often had to act like the sage, old man, reining them back. The worst year was 1990, when we had a record-setting, early-April hot spell with temperatures up over 90° F, and my elderly customers felt like putting out tomato plants. I warned them it could snow the following week, and when it did snow I looked very wise.

This year it wasn’t so hot, as it only got up to 77° on April 1st, but the following cold did set records, as it only could get up to 26° during the snow on April 4, and had dropped to 4° on the morning of April 5. (Concord, New Hampshire; official NOAA statistics.)

A 73° swing in temperatures is very hard on plants, especially plants from western Europe, because the Atlantic protects Europe from most arctic blasts. One European plant (nearly invasive, though few call it that,)  that got hit hard last week was the daffodils. They are designed to spring up before the trees have put out their foliage, in sunny places that will turn into shady places as the trees leaf out, and, because they come out so early, they’ve been created to withstand frost, and even a moderate freeze, but the extreme freeze they were hit by in New Hampshire this year was like nothing their ancestors ever experienced on the shores of the Mediterranean. It seemed to rupture whatever holds them up, at the bottoms of their stems, and they all fell face down. Some that were buds still had enough remaining capillaries to bloom, but they lack charm when their blooms kiss the dirt. Wet 3 IMG_2455

Some others look like their buds are going to simply turn brown, and not bloom. Having such dismal failure follow high hopes was a significant setback to manic, maypole moods.

Old-timers like myself anticipated a second setback would be the cold rain that always comes, as the warm weather tries to push back north. There have been years when the maps show warm fronts up to New Jersey, and even up into Massachusetts, that never quite make it this far north. One needs to make a study of cold-loving plants, if one wants to start a garden, and the old-timers tended to just chuckle at the “flatlanders” who came up to New Hampshire and wanted to get going in their gardens before Memorial Day.  Many old-timers would make a day of putting their garden in on May 31, in one big rush, and by July their gardens were doing as well as the gardens of people who hurried things in April and early May. (In fact some warmth-loving plants like peppers seem to sulk if chilled, and never do all that well, if put out too early.)

When the warm fronts stalls south of us, all we get is a cold rain. Because my Farm-childcare focuses on the outdoors, we are not stopped by the slighter rains and mists. One thing I have found enchants the children is to follow a stonewall through the damp woods, looking for signs of life.

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Besides the lichens and mosses, it has seemed the local plants have more sense than the European imports, and are holding back. Even the swamp maples only raspberry-misted the tips of their silver branches with swelling buds during the mold spell, but didn’t burst into full bloom. Down in the swamps skunk cabbage is blooming, but that is an uncanny species that creates warmth, and can actually melt its way up through ice. All in all there is a sense everything is about to explode, but is not quite there yet. Of course, this doesn’t keep the exploration from being fun.

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And then, at long last, the pussy willow (Salix Discolor)  bloomed. An older girl noted them at the very end of a day, and I immediately had my next day all planned out. Wet 7 FullSizeRender

However the slighter rains gave way to not so slight rains.

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When all the world is getting drenched, we don’t go out more than we have to. It is not so much that the children mind getting drenched, as it is they tire of being drenched fairly swiftly, and then it becomes a major project drying all their cloths for the next adventure.

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In every rain there are times when the downpour slacks off, and you can go for short walks before rushing back, when the rain starts up again. The pussy willows were too far away for such a walk, but I like to take the kids out and show them how every drop on every twig has an upside-down world within it, with the sky at the bottom. Its something most people walk by all the time and never notice, but you don’t have to go far from shelter to see it.

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And just because it is likely wise to avoid drenching children, hunting pussy willows, it does not mean I can’t drench myself.

April’s cruel teasing has made the blooms bow
Face down in the mud, and the peeping frogs
Have gone silent, but time has taught me how
To tread a stream-side’s sedge and rotted logs,
Wading through a wet day with hopeful eyes
Seeking the gray, silver-fox fur of buds
Among the jewels of a hanging surprise
On every twig. On every twig the mud’s up
And the sky’s down as clear drops magnify
A topsy-turvy world, each drop dark-topped
And silver-bottomed, and, as I press by,
All drenching me until my joy’s unstopped
And I decide it’s not such a bad life
If I gather pussy willows for my wife.

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LOCAL VIEW –APRIL MOPES–

I generally try to keep an upbeat attitude, or at least muster a wry irony and sarcasm, and to avoid moping. However after the sweetness of a false spring, the return of winter’s final spurning is hard to take. One has been wooed, and then cheated upon, or so it feels.

Here’s this morning’s weather map and radar. (Click to enlarge, if you really want to focus on misery.)

 

I try to see the bright side. For example, the sun is so high the snow didn’t stick to the roads, so there was no shoveling or plowing. (Please ignore the wheelbarrow behind the car, indicating I had to rush to get firewood in before it snowed. Oh, my aching back….but forget I said that. I’m fortunate to have wood, and a back to ache.)

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And there is the positive side to think about. I don’t have to mow the grass, do I?

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And, considering I have displayed such goodness and virtue, with my positive attitude, surely I will be rewarded by sunshine and tweeting birds. Right? So lets check out this evening’s map and radar. (Do not click to enlarge, unless you are feeling masochistic .)

 

What’s this?  The maps show that the first storm blew up into a howling gale in the Gulf of Maine, giving us a bitter Sunday afternoon with snow flurries, and then, no sooner do those winds die down, then another ripple of low pressure brings further arctic snows our way, to make a miserable Monday morning more miserable than Mondays already are.

What kind of reward is this? After all, I’m a sensitive poet. I need to be pampered. This sort of bullshit gets the violins of my self-pity wailing so badly strings start breaking, and my poetry might be blighted into beastly doggeral.

God forgive me, but April snows do tempt one to question the entire concept of a compassionate God. I mean, what sort of God would allow daffodils to be wooed upwards by warmth to the point of blooming:

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And then, rather than applauding the first blooms, hit them with this:

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If even the flowers mope, should not I?

But here is where it gets interesting. Our forefathers went through a real downer of a time called The Great Depression, and had every reason to bitch and complain. But when you investigate the past,  you discover that even this depressing-looking bunch didn’t do that.

You have to understand that in 1929 people saw the stock-market-crash snarl at them, and completely wipe out everything they had worked their entire lives for. For that reason I actually like the intense irony in this early version of the “Sunny Side Of The Street”.

However there can be little doubt that we Americans got better and better at making music of our misery, and this version of “Sunny Side Of The Street” is downright joyous.

To me this bizarre, cheerful  behavior of humans, when they have every reason to roll over and stick their arms and legs in the air like a dead cow, is a real miracle. Who needs to walk on water, or see the sea parted?  The sight of ordinary nobility seems so moving to me that I actually avoid it, because I’m a tough old dude and don’t much like it when my wife hands me a Kleenex. I tend to drag my heels when my wife wants to go out and see a chick-flick, because when I watch a tearjerker I wind up biting my lip, and then doing those weird inhalations one does just before a sob, and wind up shedding twice as many tears as my wife does.

Who needs that? I am basically a pragmatic Yankee, and I intellectually believe that when the going gets tough the tough get going. It does no intellectual good to bawl like a baby.

But maybe it does some emotional good, especially when you are powerless against some illness like cancer, or some financial factor like the Great Depression, or some political monster like Hitler. There are times we are faced with the fact we are not as big and tough as we like to believe.

In any case, my wife and I went to see a tearjerker called “Miracles From Heaven.” It’s about a family with a child who has an incurable illness. I know that subject sounds damn depressing, but I still recommend this movie.

After all, when we watch the news these days it sure does look like our whole planet has an incurable illness.

But perhaps we foolish humans need to be brought to our knees, before we learn how to sing.

Spring lied to me, and now daffodils mope
Weighted by snow, and hunched songbirds pout
From evergreen caves. I feel like a dope
For ever allowing my dreams to come out.
Like a young girl seduced by an old rake
Or a congregation robbed by a priest
Trust lies in ruins. Kindness seems to forsake
The kind, and the deserving get the least
As the crooked run off to long laugh last.

Why, then, is this strange smiling tickling lips?
Why, then, is this odd music standing fast?
What is this faith which, with white-knuckle-grips,
Uplifts like cream sails on clipper ships masts?
Is it the last who laugh the laugh that lasts?

LOCAL VIEW —March Gladness—

Tax Time 1 IMG_1880I escaped from the madness of my taxes to the gladness of my garden, muttering to myself about how the farmers who made our nation great likely had next to no paperwork or financial records to deal with. They wanted all Americans to learn to read and write, but it was not to torture them. Americans were suppose to read and write inspiring and uplifting things, not to create bureaucratic busybodies.

Just about the only redeeming thing about sorting through the complete mess my wife and I make of our financial records is that I find all sorts of poems I scribbled on the backs of envelopes. The envelope may contain a threatening letter stating the electricity will be turned off, but rather than frightened I think up a rhyme, scribble it down, and toss the envelope in the to-do-later pile. Twice last year we only paid the electricity bill to the guy who came to shut it off, (which involves a $15.00 “collection fee”, but it is well worth it. My time is worth far more than $15.00 an hour, and I had better things to do than open envelopes.)

It is not like we are lazy. It is just that at our Farm-childcare we have 17 children, 7 goats, 2 pigs, chickens, ducks, a rooster, a garden, leaky roofs, snow-storms, mowing, shoveling, and disgruntaled customers to deal with. Who has time for paperwork? Then the State Childcare Inspector drops by and is horrified that our record-keeping is messy. A parent forgot to sign in while dropping off a child, so we get “written up” by the State Inspector. And then the insurance adjuster comes by with nothing better to do than dream up dangers all over the place. So we get “written up” by him as well.  And we also have a family and a church and a blog to attend to. Lazy? That isn’t us.

But it is embarrassing when tax-time comes around and I have to start figuring out our business expenses, starting out with the electricity. This involves locating 12 envelopes, only three of which were ever opened, for the farm house, and 12 more for the barn area, and 12 more for our home. They are in six heaps of paper, in various places about the house. Then I add them all up, trying not to be distracted by the poems on the backs of the envelopes. (When my wife hears me chuckling she knows I’m not working.) Yesterday it took me four hours to simply get that far.  Embarrassing?  Yes, especially because every year we say we are never are going to do this again, and will be tidy and pay our bills when they come…but we never do. However I just figure it goes along with being an artist and an airhead. Poets are suppose to suffer, and that is why God created bureaucrats.

This suffering does make me feel poetic, so I look over my shoulder at the pile of papers and head outside.Tax Time 2 IMG_1881Daffodils IMG_1878Will you look at that! One day of warm temperatures has brought the daffodils shooting up! You have to admit that is a lot more interesting than old electricity bills. And something so wonderful simply should not be ignored. That would be ungrateful.

Again green spears of daffodils thrust up.
Again the lifeless landscape comes alive.
The fisted hand relents, and fingers cup
Clear waters to my thirst, as my hopes thrive
And wonder at the beauty made so plain;
The healing spread like balming over pain;
The sanity consoling the insane;
The dawn informing dark it can’t remain.

God knows every star and each one’s name.
Creation shows His art is infinite.
How did He fit together, craft and tame
My world so I can walk around in it?

As He knows all, He needs no further knowledge.
We’re made by One who never went to college.

(This post should explain to you why, when taxes are not due until April 15, I start them in early March.)