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
I’m taking a respite from a short story I’m writing to talk about winter. Specifically, winter in Massachusetts. Now, this winter has been quite a mild one. The only snow my little town has seen was on Halloween. At the time, it seemed a portent of doom, this early snowfall at the end of October. A sign that the climate gods were unhappy and frustrated. A statement of mistrust and disapproval from ye gods on high. Often we can get a dusting of snow in October, but not generally this type of significant storm that causes power outages, downed tree limbs, and all the other usual accoutrements of winter. A weariness set upon many; those of us who intensely dislike clearing our cars of ice and snow, those who have long commutes to work, who aren’t skiers or snowmobilers, we who get little joy out of the white stuff. We anticipated a long, dreadfully difficult season.
Turns out though, we got depressed prematurely. Because since that October storm, we’ve had nothing more than a few flakes of snow in the air. We’ve experienced some very warm days when not only didn’t we need boots, hats, and mittens, but we didn’t even need jackets. This is freaky, I tell you. It is not usual. I had to ask my virtual friend from Canada to write a poem about snow for me, because I can’t write about what I don’t see. I told him: write about the starkness of the trees in winter, your breath clinging to the atoms of air in front of you, the moss peaking up from under the snow. Of course he didn’t (I don’t have much luck with persuading people to do my bidding.)
Do I actually miss the snow? No, that can’t be. But perhaps I miss writing about it. So, here’s a first draft on a winter poem. Be kind – I have nothing to go on this year.
Turkeys drenched in frozen rain
Peck at the desolate, rock hard ground
Crowd around the tiny patch of moss green
Peaking up from under the snow
Flutter and run at the sound
Of the garage door opener
And before you drive through the doors
Stop at the mailbox at the side of the road
Step onto the ice pavement
Brave the storm, the sloppy snow
And watch your breath cling to the atoms of air
In front of you
Collect the junk mail flyers
And discount magazine offers
Back in the car, honk at the birds
And drive through the gates of heavenly warmth
The blessed garage
While the turkeys
Fly confused up into the lacy trees
Stark nude, with their brown twilight dress
And hunker down for more
The weather outside is frightful. Oops, those are lyrics from a popular holiday song. Let me start again. The weather outside is hateful…no, the weather outside is unbearable…no, it’s horrible…no. Let’s start all over. The weather outside is exactly what it should be for winter in northern climes. It’s difficult. It’s cold, frigid, frosty, snowy, icy, windy, freezing. My character Glory in PERSEPHONE IN HELL is somewhat more eloquent than I in her thoughts about winter. She’s hitchhiking her way to school, just got picked up by a trucker who is very pleased to host this gorgeous teenage girl in his truck.
“I’m so damn cold. Will spring never come? She closed her eyes, willing Persephone, the goddess of spring, to arise from the dead. Nothing happened.
Should know better than to trust in the gods. Maybe I’ll thumb my way to Florida.
Her fingers moved up and down her frigid skin, trying to create some heat. The trucker’s hand left the steering wheel and inched across the vinyl seat toward her. “It’s like ice in here,” he said softly so as not to disturb her reverie. “I can help with that.”
Glory gave up on the gods for the moment and stared out the steamed up window. She counted the side streets they slowly passed – Forest Street, Chestnut Street, Spring Hill Lane. Such vernal, innocent places, green and natural. Merry and naked, nothing like winter; no snow drifts ever on Spring Hill.”
Ah, just the thought of the idyllic Spring Hill makes me wish I could thumb my way to somewhere else. Anywhere else. A place where Mother Nature reveals her softer side on a more regular basis. Where ice is mostly associated with cream, and cold with beer. Where a young girl can walk to school past inviting green lawns. Where truckers drive on by and no one misses them. Where cool, invigorating winds come to visit but don’t stay long. Where without the crushing weight of a hard bitter cold, the spirit can float free.
When the rain
Is infinitely more interesting
Wets the window sills
If you’re brave enough to leave the gaps open
If you won’t care that the flooring below gets damp
Tap taps sound on the gable, on the shingles, on the asphalt
On the wood dormers and eaves
All the better to hear the beauty raps
Smells of natural effects
Earth worms reaching out for air
(Otherwise you never see them)
And shiny spider webs
Invisible in the dry
That pop from the lawn like tiny pinwheels
In crystal post-shower light
Oily slick spots on the pavement
Form psychedelic rainbows
The rain pulls color up from every leaf
And stick of grassy cover
Every surface more vivid
Recalling the green of Ireland
Grabs the sorrow up from me
Deposits it on my arms and thighs
My wet, prickly, sensitive layer
Clear water thoughts apparent
Sitting on my skin
And there’s usually some wind accompanying the drops
The majestic wind
Rap, tap, wild howls
Branches swaying, leaves blowing
Sometimes a downpour
Or drowsy, dreary, dripping melancholy
My frequent friend
Never dull like the sun
That relentless boring bright