Spring here is at first so wary,
And then so spare that even the birds act like strangers,
Trying out the strange air with a hesitant chirp or two,
And then subsiding. But the season intensifies by degrees,
Imperceptibly, while the colors deepen out of memory,
The flowers bloom and the thick leaves gleam in the sunlight . . .
—from “The Late Wisconsin Spring” by John Koethe
* * *
Then shall the trees of the wood sing for joy before the Lord . . .
—1 Chronicles 16:33
One must have impeccable timing if one wants to see the spring ephemerals—the delicate flowers that appear on the forest floor in early spring and vanish seemingly overnight. We were out on the trails last week and only the speckled leaves of the trout-lily were showing. But, I knew the blooms wouldn’t be far behind, and I remembered from previous years that they show up right when I can see (from my kitchen window) the trees’ new leaves foaming green on the other side of the pond. And, that’s what I saw today, so I knew it was time for a walk in the woods.
In reality it could be dumb luck, but all the old favorites were on display: Jack-in-the-pulpit, mayapple, wake-robin, violet, and trout-lily. There were a few wild oats, too, and everywhere we looked the golden spiral of a fern leaf was unfurling. One plant new to me this year is the two-leafed toothwort or crinkleroot—apparently it’s a member of the mustard family and tastes a bit like horseradish. I tend to leave plants where they’re rooted, but it’s always fun to take pictures and then learn about them later. If you’re local, you can see all of these beautiful spring ephemerals on the Mill Pond trail right now!
Plant specimen I.D.’s (from top): fern, jack-in-the-pulpit, crinkleroot, fern (close-up), mayapple, wake-robin, common blue violet, trout-lily, trout-lily (close-up).
The lesson which life repeats and constantly enforces is ‘look under foot.’ You are always nearer the divine and the true sources of your power than you think. The lure of the distant and the difficult is deceptive. The great opportunity is where you are. Do not despise your own place and hour. Every place is under the stars, every place is the center of the world.
—from Studies in Nature and Literature by John Burroughs
* * *
The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for what He is sending us every day in His goodness.
—St. Gianna Beretta Molla
Today is my birthday, and the first day of my last year being ‘in my thirties.’ This is also my first, and hopefully last, birthday under lockdown (hence the photo of me, above, looking out on the world from inside—we’ll certainly all remember this for a very long time).
I think I’ve said this before, but my birthday always feels a bit like New Year’s day to me. One of our family traditions on the actual first day of the New Year is to make a collage that visualizes, in some way, how we’d like our lives to look over the coming months. I have this year’s collage pasted to the door of my closet-office and I see it every day now that I’m working from home and spending a lot more time at my little desk. Along with pictures of forests, gardens, and laundry hanging on the line, my collage also includes some phrases like “time alone” and “a handmade life.” How prescient! It seems that my hopes and dreams have manifested, but not quite in the way I imagined.
So, here I am staring down the final year of my fourth decade of life—what do I hope to accomplish? In truth, circumstances define my options. Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time and energy following the lure of the distant. Now I am cut off from that type of striving—but there is such freedom and goodness in standing still.
I never knew this was the center of the world! I think I will stay here and watch the trees leaf out.
Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on – on – and out of sight.
Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away . . . O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.
—”Everyone Sang” by Siegfried Sassoon
It is Holy Week and we are in exile from normal life. We can’t go to work, we can’t go to school, we can’t go to church. It is Holy Week, but this year there will be no spreading of Christ’s light from candle to candle at the Easter Vigil, no triumphant belting out of “Jesus Christ Has Risen Today” on Easter morning. There is only this quiet, quiet existence that I still don’t recognize. Each of us is curled inside our own little dewdrop—a reflection of our former lives, upside down—waiting to fall.
Here inside my dewdrop I’m baking bread, starting seeds, knitting dishcloths in case we run out of paper towels, and painting wooden Easter eggs to hide in the yard for the kids. We’re walking, walking, walking—in circles, up hills, across streams and bridges. And running—down hills with our arms outstretched like wings as we rush through the clear air. We’re watching the pond rise and fall with the melting snow and the spring rains. We’re watching the geese come and go; the moon fill with light and wither. I can’t conjure up common happiness, but maybe there is still some joy to find or make in these small, close moments.
I went to see our priest yesterday, to be reconciled with God before Easter—those venial sins (that impatience, that self-pity) tend to pile up in difficult times. It was a good visit, a good confession. For just a little while I am free. So, give me those long-buried Alleluias! Give me that glorious Resurrection, that golden sun warming my face, those green shoots reaching, that soft bird calling me from sleep early in the morning. For just a little while, I am right-side up again and winging wildly across the fields.
Count it all joy, my brethren,
when you meet various trials,
for you know that the testing
of your faith produces steadfastness.
And let steadfastness have its full effect,
that you may be perfect and complete,
lacking in nothing.
* * *
Be not discouraged, keep on,
there are divine things well envelop’d,
I swear to you there are divine things
more beautiful than words can tell.