Over the long weekend, before the neighborhoods filled up with students on break from school, the dominant sounds and movements were what we mostly think of as silence and stillness: nature breaking out of winter and hurrying into spring.
I noticed it right away when I arrived at the little cottage I rent on a bay south of Maine. Though I had left early, my tires crackling the sprinkling of crackling sleet still on the ground from the night before, the cold dissipated almost imperceptibly as the sun came up and I drove down the coast, past Kittery and Portsmouth. By the time I was south of Boston it felt as if I had traveled across weeks of time into a different climate zone.
I had meandered in my travel, taking the long way around the day, arriving as evening was coming on. I opened the car door to the trilling peal of the peepers in the wetlands, a reliable sign of spring recorded in my catalog of memories here. The songbirds were still at it — working the landscape for food and mates and nesting sites — though dark was headed their way. I could pluck them out of the gloaming like tones struck by a bell choir — the robins’ cheery trill, red-winged blackbirds guarding their nests with territorial calls that sound like a rusty gate hinge, the cardinals’ unmistakable measure of a mate, who-it, who-it, whit, too, too, too.
I did all the usual weekender’s tasks, hastily clearing the car of more items than needed to be packed for such a brief stay, unloading groceries that I wouldn’t need and that would be repacked in 48 hours for the trip back home to Maine.
The dog sat down in the gravel next to the mailbox, her sentinel seat, and resumed watch over the little world of the bog that was carrying on just fine without us. But we had migrated back, like the blackbirds, and had our assigned place. So in thanks and out of habit, we occupied it.
A neighbor saw me doing my metronomic walk from the car down to the bog and into the cottage, then swinging back up the pebble path to the street. After a time my cadence was slowing, my work almost done, when the phone rang, and she welcomed me back with an offer of dinner. By then it was almost fully dark.
I attended to the last few duties, mixing canned and dry dog food for the retriever’s meal, checking the basement for any residual spring flooding — there was none — and smoothed the wrinkles of the day out of my cotton blouse, topped my tousled outfit off with a sweater and strode out under the soft glow of a single street light to the porch a few doors down the road.
It wasn’t until morning, when I had to lug a load of laundry outside and around the cottage to the bulkhead that opens to the cellar, that I got a full sense of spring setting things in order once again after the long cold winter. I had loaded the washer and left it churning, making my way out of the basement, when I noticed that something on the far wall was out of whack. Where only garden tools lay in a horizontal plane, something vertical was poking upward.
I took a closer look.
It was a daffodil.
It had grown through a crack in the foundation — where there is a good selection of fissures to consider — and was reaching through the darkness created by the heavy bulkhead. It was making its stubborn, vital way toward sunlight that shimmered through a point nearby where a brick had broken and a rodent likely had mined diligently enough to weasel through.
Now the daffodil, too, had found the route and was traveling along it, protected from spring rain or a sudden late frost. It had a ways to go — while others out-of-doors were already blooming — but I thought it might flower by the time I was able to return again, in a few weeks, for another visit.
Nature is always conducting a reclamation project here at the edge of the bog. Ivy often grows behind the shingles and reappears indoors, at the edge of the door or window frame. I even saw it once come right up through the wall-to-wall rug as though the berber were a carpet of earth.
The spiders consider this dwelling their durable web, and they are always waiting for the turnover of the seasons. Next time I show up, the tiny brown “grease ants” also will have re-emerged along their usual path through the kitchen window, and I will have to figure out what treatment, if any, I will use as a weapon to wall my domicile from the world beyond the door.
Actually there’s not much point, I know. If I really wanted to be liberated from these small eccentricities of natural exuberance intruding on my comfort, I would have chosen somewhere else to spend my free time.
As it is, without trying, I share in every shudder of the wild world that is just outside — the cottontails like smooth rocks in the lawn at dusk, suddenly erupting into leaps and bounds that seldom carry them even out of range of the dog’s lazy run or of my limited field of view. Fearing nothing for a moment, they quietly return to munching on the fresh-grown grass, soft as lettuce.
The phragmites bow, leaning toward the windows, as though peering in to see whether I plan to stay awhile. They are the fixtures here, though; I’m just blowing through. I am as fleeting as a fallen leaf, carried on other winds, elsewhere. I return when I can. They, in stark contrast, stand firm and nearly eternal.
They are the strong ones; they endure.
North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6325 or at: