That first crocus of the season – what can make you feel like a million bucks more than spying that first fresh flower of early spring? Maybe winning the lottery for actual millions of bucks would be better, but honestly, today I feel as though I’ve hit the jackpot.
Why? Well, I was walking out in the cold this late morning, after a nor’easter of a storm yesterday. No, not for daily exercise. That would be nice but if I’m being honest, I’ll admit I haven’t done much walking since my ankle-turning trip to San Francisco’s hills a few weeks back. No, I was simply collecting my mail from the mailbox by the road. I was favoring my left ankle a bit, giving it some room to breathe and stretch and find its way back to the flat sandy coast of Massachusetts. To even ground. Maybe I was looking more carefully for the inevitable dips and bends in the pavement that can catch a person unaware and send her flying.
So maybe I wouldn’t have seen it at all if not for my slightly worn foot. Maybe I’d have been absorbed in all the junk mail and looking for that surprise million dollar check from Publishers Clearing if not for the ache in my ankle. I guess those hills gave me a workout on purpose? Or maybe I’m just not meant to be the next winner of that prize if only I have the matching number? Who knows?
But in any case, I collected my mail and started back up the driveway, when I looked down and over to the shade of the arborvitae, past the snow bank and ice, into the lawn. Why I glanced that way, I couldn’t tell you, but I moved my eyes past my own bodily sphere, my own perceived interests.
And shock of shocks! There is was! A tiny little purple flower, cup-shaped, unfolding to catch the next rain. Green-y striped leaves bursting into the air like spears challenging the white stuff nearby. First out! Keep me down if you can! A daring, living, breathing entity that braved the storm. This bud reveled in life, taking the ultimate risk of survival, of growth, of desire to succeed. Freed itself from the frozen earth, as though anyone could do it. (All this confidence makes a crocus the loveliest of spring flowers.)
And you know what this makes me think? I think that from this desperate, spring-bound bud, I’ve hit the jackpot. It’s a crucible of understanding. Knowing that if a crocus can behave so courageously, so morally, so intentionally, then so can I.
If a bloom can find shelter in the icy cold and continue to blossom, certainly I can match this strength.
If a tiny purple and green flower can exhibit hope for the future of its existence, then surely, so can I discover my own hope.
Sore ankle or not, junk mail or a million dollar lottery ticket, no matter, I can do it. I can find my own reason for being.
And I promise to at least try to keep looking beyond myself for the secrets and wonders that make our world.
There are people all over the world who live in climates where snow never falls. They don’t experience snow except in movies. They don’t know the cold that comes with snow. Some have never seen it for real, never touched it, never been closer than a picture in a book. I am decidedly not one of those people!
Some get a dusting of snow and think they understand snow. They don’t know snow. I know snow. I know snow in the most intimate, most familiar, most embarrassingly common manner. I know snow in the Platonic sense, that is, in its quintessential form.
I have known snow for so long, you’d think we’d be comfortable partners by now. You’d think we’d be caring for each other, helping each other thrive, wishing each other well and long life. You’d think so – you’d be wrong.
In this scene from my novel PERSEPHONE IN HELL, four year old Glory and her older sister Penny are running home from the candy store, through the snow to their protected play house under the pine trees in their yard.
“They had a good long walk ahead of them, three quarters of a mile or more. Just outside the store, Glory stopped…Must take off my mittens. They’re ugly orange and there’s a hole in the thumb. They’re not beautiful. She took off her mittens, stuffed them into her pockets, and continued on, holding her little bag tightly in her bare hands. Penny ran ahead, but Glory couldn’t run. She could barely walk. Her bare hands were frozen.
I’m so cold. My hands hurt. They’re all red. She wouldn’t let go of her candy bag to put her hands inside her pockets or put on her mittens…The snow fell a little harder. Glory’s hands couldn’t move. They were frozen to the bag. My legs are sore. I don’t want to walk anymore. My eyes are tired. She leaned against a telephone pole and decided to rest.
Just then, a man in a felt hat and top coat walked by. He stopped and looked at Gloria. I’m cold, so cold. And where is Penny? He said, “Little girl, where do you live? I’ll take you home.” Glory pointed down the street. Not supposed to talk to strangers.
The man picked her up and carried her down the street. Glory closed her eyes. So tired and cold. Need to rest. The man didn’t ask if they were close to home. He held her tightly and kept walking.”
Mother Nature and I, we don’t always get along. Like mothers and daughters everywhere, we don’t always agree. We disagree often, in fact. Every summer when the air is hellishly hot and humid. Late spring when the mosquitoes and black flies come out. Autumn was my favorite for the longest while, but then I noticed the leaves die off in fall. (They do so quite dramatically here.) And she and I fight outright every winter when the snow and cold and the early dark sky make me wonder how I am to survive until the seasons change again.
In defense of privacy, I call to witness the dogwoods of spring. Those flush petaled beauties, such showy persona, so bent on drawing your eye to their wonders. Your face can’t help but look upward at their pink delicate bounty balanced on graceful trunks and lacy branches. You don’t see what sustains them, what pulls them into the earth. Roots growing down into the sexy soil. Grasping for touch, for contact with the dark wetness. Tugging, teasing, persistent,their life force unseen. Drawing them to the deepness, to the watery well. The pink pulls you up and away on purpose. Dogwoods hide their desirous parts; they prefer to keep them private.
Then there are the tulips. Fighting the gravity of the world. A burst of color defines their loveliness. What is a tulip if not delight? Their fields cry out in splendor. Hallelujah! The hued beauty of the earth revealed! But the true glory lies below, in the privacy of the grainy ground. There, a single bulb splits open and surges its shoots toward the sun. Driven, desperate, pushing its way against the very tide. Wanting to live in two worlds, the rounded hidden one that nourishes it, the grassy air-lit one it desires.
On West Chestnut
Intense tulips bloom and strain
Straight up toward the compelling light
And finally I call the garden moss to testify. Tiny forest green and emerald parts that make the whole, they live in harmony with one other. They cover the rocks and stones and creep anywhere that suits them. Anywhere they can thrive. They exist on the morning dew. Their privacy springs from the anonymity they share; not one can be counted unique. Growing in dimension, spreading in unmeasured delirious abandon, considering no one but themselves. Oh, the greedy happiness!
Steamy moss feasts
Nothing will stop
The kind that fills the soft blackened night
With golden cast
A moon moist with tears
In sultry, heavy briny vapors
Longing to be seen
Teasing her way across the sky
In that light
I see your liquid face
The kind that dips her trails into the sea
Wispy floating trails
Connections to the deep
Holding the light close
Her steamy breath tangled
With the granite soil
Not letting go
In that company
I spy your fleeting smile
The earth and heavens sync
Each countering the other
Pulling, secret on the misty shore
In telescopic view
Changing, twisting jellyfish tendrils
The salt fog teases
Pushes back against the very
Queen of the universe
She is pleased
With the drifting, wandering airy caresses
Those ether kisses
That tie and bind, and conceal
And then reveal her whole and shroud once more
No rhyme, no pattern
Just indulgent easy bliss
Helping her command the tides
Drawing back again and again
Committing the earth to the sky
The deep to the beyond
Never to part
Within the unseen veiled reaches
I behold your starry eyes
In celebration of the summer solstice, I say goodbye to this difficult, demanding, dissonant spring.
[Excerpt from PERSEPHONE IN HELL]
“Spring had come again, a time of great confusion in the natural world of southeastern Massachusetts. A time for tiny delicate crocus to bud, only to be buried and sometimes crushed under a late snowfall. For robins to fly home from their wanderings even before the earthworms work their way out of the frozen ground.
Azaleas bloom one week; daffodils another. Antisocial forsythia’s already come and gone along with the snowdrops. Cherry blossoms and rhododendrons and tulips awake in no particular order. Crab apples usually flower last, but not always.
Skunk and raccoon, squirrel and chipmunk scurry out of their nests willy nilly, looking for something fresh to eat after the long lonely winter. Everybody’s lean and hungry. All living things in the spring look for their chance, search for a place to thrive, jockey for position.
Perhaps there is harmony and concordance in a New York spring, or in Pennsylvania, or Washington DC. But in southeastern Massachusetts, Mother Nature cries out a dissonant prelude. She doesn’t desire a symphony of bloom. She fights to keep everyone and everything under her domain on guard.
She prefers to conduct a guessing game. Can I keep that blue jay from stealing my nest? wonders the worried female cardinal just laying her eggs. Maybe I could use that nest to lay my eggs, the tired female blue jay thinks, searching for a suitable place to land. It is survival of the fittest, and Mother Nature is cruel. She’s tough, demanding disorderly progressions in spring. Because she knows once summer comes, both flora and fauna – anyone who’s survived the spring grows strong.
There is an inevitable harmony in the summer solstice. That’s the easy part. But it’s the getting there that counts. Spring brings chaos and uncertainty, discordant notes and solo acts whose timing may be all off. It’s meant to make us fit and able. Any good mother wants her children fit and able for the times to come. It’s the law of nature.”
And sit closed with eyes affront
Affixed upon the open sea
Where demons lurk and devils spy
And wait their chance to punish me
The humid air around me
Charged elements grope, electrify
Turbulent, careening, racing drops
Magnetic forces terrify
The world seems flat, uncaring
Trampling my disheartened senses
All around me deadened sound
Stark, empty, without pretenses
But all I see is glare
Squinting through the rays of light
Sol hammers at my pounding head
Skin soaked, a sunburned painful blight
Building blocks of yearning
They skip and float across the sky
Imagined perfect lovely vision
Those fantasies they personify
Pulls and tears and screams my name
Teasing, wanting, filling, lusting
Rips and drags me to its call
Mesmerizing, lunar trusting
And the wind behind my back
It turns me out a bitter fool
The breeze doth bite and stab
Tis unforgiving, desperate, cruel
And how I’m meant to be
I watch the wind, oh stealthy form
I keep my flaming candles safe
I hide from savage killing storm
And watch my life go by and by
While I await the calm
That static cool serenity
Oh what the world might mean to me
If only the wind would let me be