LOCAL VIEW –Her Hardest Hue To Hold–

it’s a cold, black night, 37ºF with sleet occasionally tapping the window pane, mixing in with the icy rain. Not the start of an Ice Age, (I hope), for I’ve seen it snow in May before, but definitely not Global Warming. Tomorrow’s high temperature could be twenty-five degrees below “normal”. Not that we are ever really normal, around here.

It’s a good night to look at the bright side. Some springs get off to a fast start with a blast of heat, and daffodils bloom and wither on the same day, but this year they have lasted nearly a fortnight in the cold. Blooms usually don’t last so long even in a florist’s refrigerator.

In one way the chill is a dream-come-true, because there is a part of me that wants to hit the pause-button, every spring. Spring has a habit of leaping past, all too fleeting and intangible, like time through an old man’s fingers. There is something beautiful in springtime which I deeply want to savor, if not grasp.

First green’s gold’s hard to hold in mystic May
As all the twigs get lacy, before shade’s
Grown the cool, green dark of June. Sunbeams play
In the gold glades, where even a shy maid’s
Unafraid to pass me walking through woods.
The wonder awes. The breeze isn’t hushing
Summer’s hush; soft leaves gentle winds; no “shoulds”
Or “coulds” or “woulds” list and schedule crushing
Madness in my mind. Heavy boots are shed
And I walk light-footed and light-hearted
Through lime-gold light. Have I died? Am I led
To see the bright end of what God’s started?
Like dawn after dark, wondrously uplifted
By healing from bed, the whole world is gifted.

There. At least I attempted to sketch the fleeting wonder. Robert Frost’s sketch was more succinct:

Nature’s first green is gold, 
Her hardest hue to hold. 
Her early leaf’s a flower; 
But only so an hour. 
Then leaf subsides to leaf. 
So Eden sank to grief, 
So dawn goes down to day. 
Nothing gold can stay. 

But I disagree with the master, in terms of the grief. There is something in spring that is the exact opposite of grief. I think the grief is due to our desire to capture it, to clutch it in a fist like a brute picking flowers.

I spent a while attempting to capture it, (though hopefully not like a brute), with a camera, but felt hopelessly inadequate. It was like trying to catch a sunbeam with a net.

What I wanted to capture was the way the first shade of spring is so green-golden it can hardly be called “shade.” It is more of a light than a shade, but cameras have a hard time with such subtlety. The sky was too bright, and made the light coming through the leaves look too dark.

The images were actually better looking away from the sun, though that view utterly lacked the enchantment of light coming through leaves.

During our few sunny spells midst weeks of rain I snapped picture after picture, and few came close to the reality I wandered through. It was fairly obvious I would spoil the joy if I persisted in trying to capture it. Rather than joyous I’d be frustrated. But I couldn’t help myself, I suppose because one can’t help but exclaim when one sees something beautiful. Perhaps it is a bit crude, like a teen-aged boy releasing a long, low whistle when he sees a gorgeous girl, but it was what it was.

At some point the desire to grip spring like a strangler gave way to merely traveling through it, like a wayfarer on a road.

I think, in the end, my saving gurus were the small boys at my Childcare. Also my dog. And my goats. They had no desire to be artists and take pictures or write sonnets, and instead they galloped and pranced, without the need to choreograph like artistic dancers, but rather like goats and dogs and boys. They are what they are.

Of course, there is always someone who will object to such undisciplined skipping and gamboling. Bureaucrats might frown to see boys walking by a pond without coast-guard approved life-jackets, but fortunately the closest thing to a bureaucrat around was me. In our case the nearby nags were a bunch of Canada Geese. Apparently we had no business disrespecting the invisible no-trespassing signs they had laid out to keep all in proper order, and came swimming up like a gang of hooligans bugling their baritone-to-falsetto yodeling.

The boys refused to have their joy depressed, and, displaying a complete disregard for fellow species and the ecosystem, told the geese that they refused to allow their joy to be intimidated.

The battle was prolonged and furious, but in the end everyone was happy and no one got hurt. (Six-year-old’s have weak arms, and the geese were too smart to draw closer than twenty yards.) A weakling voice in the back of my mind was feebly telling me the episode was politically incorrect, but another was voice was telling me spring itself is politically incorrect, and instead sung like Julie Andrews:

Tra la, it’s May, the lusty Month of May;
That lovely month when everyone goes blissfully astray.
Tra la, it’s here: That shocking time of year
When tons of wicked little thoughts merrily appear….

Every year I wonder if it can possibly happen again, and every year I am surprised when it actually does happen again: Spring!

My wife left town for a few days to help organize a baby-shower for my daughter-in-law in Maine, and this enabled me to really get into the spirit of spring by playing hooky an entire weekend:

I skipped church on a dull Sunday, and I
Immediately heard a sweet choir sing.
Though spring lay gray under a charcoal sky
Light shone on me. “What the heck’s happening?”
I wondered, “Where is my dose of mortal guilt?”
All I felt was a bubbling gladness.
There was no black burden to make spirits wilt
And only a day free of such sadness.
I felt like a boy when school has let out
For the summer. With sweet spring in my stride
I crossed the gray world. My heart yearned to shout
“I’m free as a bird” but I hugged it inside
And let birds do the singing. God alone knows
How I worshiped, as from the dead I arose.

************

My wife away, I had beer for breakfast,
Then got on my knees in the garden to plant.
Unshaven, uncombed, I happily messed
In mud for hours, and none said, “You can’t.”
Dirty and sweaty, I felt palms get gritty
And pitied poor bankers sans-dirt-under-nails.
Who needs a penthouse atop a loud city?
Who needs more money when cash always fails
To purchase what toil can give me for free?
Busy as Beaver, I find I forget
To pity myself, and hum like Sir Bee
From flower to flower, and yet,
Though small as an ant, under sky too tall,
I also am huge, for I’m part of it all.

These are good things to remember, on a stormy night with sleet tapping at the window panes in May. And one odd aspect is the realization that Spring’s joy is not due to having desire fulfilled, nor due to renouncing desire, but simply by skipping desire altogether. It is the ultimate hooky.

LOCAL VIEW –Window to the Wet–

The beat and drench of the cold April wet
Strands me by my window, frowning distaste.
When young I’d push myself out and forget
All comfort, not for “fears-must-be-faced”,
But with my eyes filled by mad ambition.

With handsaw and hammer and reused, rusty nails
I would change the world, and no lack of sun
Or cold rain could stop me, but bluster quails
After fifty years of seeing I don’t
Change the world, but the world changes me.

The mud remains as muddy; mankind won’t
Change the climate; through my window I see
The same wet twigs holding crystal-ball drops.
The change is the same and the change never stops.

LOCAL VIEW –Chickweed–

It may seem a bit cynical to say so, but sometimes I feel people need a bit of hell to appreciate heaven. One never appreciates sleeping past dawn as much as they do the first day boot camp is done. For this reason God may appear as cruel as a drill sergeant, or as callous as a surgeon who cuts to heal, until the moment one experiences being healed.

Spring is like a vast healing overtaking the entire earth, and defying the ordinary state of affairs where we see things get worn out. Ordinarily we expect stuff to get old and become obsolete and broken. Spring holds the bliss of a contrary way. I think that, in northern lands, people would become completely intoxicated and become quite useless and be unable to plant crops, and therefore God created biting black flies, to remind us we are not in heaven yet.

This spring seems especially beautiful because it took so long to get started. The daffodils seem especially perfect, because they had to wait so long to bloom they are not bitten by late frosts.

Chickweed 1 IMG_6746

It has happened with stunning speed. One day I was spreading salt on the snowy walk and the next I am mowing grass. The road crews have flipped from plowing to putting up the Memorial Day flags.

Chickweed 5 FullSizeRender

The stark landscape is gentled too swiftly for the mind to capture or fully grasp.

Wherever you turn there are beautiful views, until I had trouble arriving on time because I had to stop so often to snap pictures of places I usually drove by without noticing.

Chickweed 3 IMG_6750

And sometimes I feel I took a wrong turn and entered a new world. (Or perhaps a right turn.)

Chickweed 4 FullSizeRender

I’m two weeks late planting peas and potatoes and onions, but even in the garden I get reminders of healing. Among last year’s dead corn grows a mat of chickweed.

Chickweed 6 IMG_6755

I did not labor to plant this crop, with its tiny blooms.

Chickweed 7 FullSizeRender

The old-timers said it was a cure for winter-dried skin and winter-clogged lungs. I gathered a gallon for dinner, (it shrinks a lot when boiled), musing to myself about how spring heals.

The more you draw, the farther the arrow flies,
And the more spring is delayed, the bluer
Are its skies, the greater your surprise,
As if you were a man who stepped from sewer
To paradise, or a damsel seeing a hero
Step from a gorilla disguise. Not all shock
Is trauma. Leaping to jackpot from zero
May drop gamblers, but winter’s thorny stalk
produced a rose of such sweet aroma
That scent became solid, a strange staircase
Climbing from garden through clouds, and such awe
Overwhelmed that no words can describe the place
Where ones mood climbed, except the poor word “bliss”.
Where one once was a worm: Metamorphosis.

LOCAL VIEW –Final April Foolishness–

April's Fool 1 FullSizeRender

I suppose there was no reason April shouldn’t end as it began, with slush mixed in with the raindrops hitting the windshield between swiping wipers. May will be different. Temperatures are suppose to rise from 37°F (3°C) this morning to 81°F (27°C) Wednesday afternoon. We’ll whiplash from winter to summer with no spring.

No, that is an exaggeration. Hiking with the children at the Childcare there were signs of spring, though they were signs I associate more with the final days of March than with the final day of April. The moss was greening on the boulders by a brook in the woods.

April's Fool 2 IMG_6736

And a raspberry mist rode the gray twigs of the swamp maples. When you draw close you see it is minute flowers.

April's Fool 2 FullSizeRender

I like to point out such details to the children. Often they are oblivious, and walk on absorbed with whatever fantasy they currently are engrossed by, but once in a while I’ll see a child screech to a halt, set back on their heels by the beauty they’re midst.

Beyond doubt this has been the coldest April I’ve seen in many a year, and there is a sort of egotism that wants to use words like “worst” and “unprecedented”. Sadly I cannot glorify in such vanity, for people such as Joe Bastardi (on his blog at the Weatherbell site), have the time to dig deeply, and inform me we are only in third place in the satellite era, for both 1983 and 1997 were colder. Nor can I use the chill to silence those doom-and-gloom Alarmists who constantly bleat about Global Warming, for despite the chill over North America the planet as a whole is slightly warmer than normal.

April's Fool 4 ncep_cfsr_t2m_anom(25)

Sometimes I just shed the tension that seems to walk hand in hand with sensationalism, wherein things must always be “best”, “worst” or “most” to deserve attention. Instead I drop the need to be champion. It feels comforting to just relax, and quietly say, “One more April is in the books.”

For in fact there is beauty to see in every April, whether they are hot or cool, and coolness has it’s good side. I can recall years when the heat had everything pass in a rush, with the daffodils blooming and withering almost before you could see they were there. And one of the saddest springs I remember saw all the trees in my boyhood neighborhood turned from reality to memory, because a heavy, wet snow fell after all the leaves were out, and entire trees were broken down. (May 9, 1977). It is not always good to have the leaves rush to unfurl.

*******

Another day is breaking.

Better to take the days as they come. A day can make a difference, for, though the temperature is again 37°F, today every bough is shining as a white sun crests the hills.

April's Fool 5 FullSizeRender

And the daffodils, neither burned by frost nor shriveled by heat, are as perfect as they’d be from a florist’s refrigerator.

April's Fool 6 IMG_6739

And the invasive lesser celandine unfurls a happy mat where I once had a lawn, petals opening even as I watch.

April's Fool 7 FullSizeRender

And even the unkempt grasses where I do have a lawn are shining.

April's Fool 8 FullSizeRender

I made it! Made it! I made it to May!
And all wintry thinking is fading!
All grayness and gloom is ebbing away
Though the leaves are too small to start shading.
The glades are so full of bright sunshine they smile
And the woods are warmhearted and golden.
I want to go walking for mile after mile
And hear how the bird-songs embolden
My lips to start whistling brand new songs
And my eyes to start dancing with clouds.
Begone all you woes! Begone all you wrongs!
Begone all you Gothic, funeral shrouds
For I’m off to the woods with nothing to say
But I made it! I made it! I made it to May!

LOCAL VIEW –Reluctant Rhapsody–

“This spring I will not write a rhapsody”
I observed, scuffing the street with old man
Feet, “For I’ve become like a dead tree
That has no sap. No green buds ever can
Gentle my claws.” I felt no great grief
Commenting, and bowed no sad violins
With self-pity. It seemed a fact and relief
That I was too old to add further sins
To my long list. The day had long passed
And I scuffed through dark fog with twilight gone
And then paused. All my dark thought was surpassed
By a sound like many lights long before dawn.
They punctured the calm my brain was self-willing.
In the swamp a thousand small frogs were all thrilling.

This is the most delayed spring I can ever remember. Usually the maples tantalize, for they start to bud out in late March, but are only flirting. Most years there is a long period where the forest is hazed by golden green and purple, and has lost the starkness of winter, as every twig is topped by a swelling bud, but the buds never bust out. A sort of prolonged reluctance becomes the mood, as the world awaits the true bursting out of May in all its glory. But this year the buds remained winter gray even in late April.

Slow spring 1 IMG_6690

Our first daffodil finally unwrapped its petals in slow motion on April 23.

Slow spring 2 FullSizeRender

The forecast is for temperatures to soar next week. Yesterday we had a hard time getting up to fifty (10°C) but next week we may touch eighty (27°C) . I fully expect to wind up dazed, as around five weeks of spring will be compressed into 120 hours.

One likes to linger over springtime, as one does a fine glass of wine, but this will be like chugging a whole bottle at once. Around here we’ll all be reeling.