Thursday, December 12, 2013
Last week I picked up what I expect will be my last load of kindling for the cold season slipping away.
I loaded up at the local finish carpentry shop, where they let the unused, clean white strips of wood go for free, took the 8- to 10-foot lengths that could have served as barrel staves and snapped them across my leg into small enough pieces to fit in the back seat of the car. After five minutes, I had enough and hauled it all home.
Just planning for contingencies like days of rain and the cold damp.
But, like most people, I find my hopeful and more forgiving side emerges when the full warm sun of spring lingers into the evening and filters in through the curtains the next morning and again the morning after that -- like a promise that fails to materialize finally comes through.
I piled the yard-stick-like wood pieces on the wide step to the shed and thought simply, "There." I might have been thinking, "There, I'm done with this chore for the winter," or "There, I have enough kindling to hold out till the firewood is used up," or "There, I can't possibly need more than this before June."
But "there" alone was enough for a bright spring evening, and behind it was the comfort of knowing the heating bills would recede like a tide and the necessary concern about wood could be confined to the replacement pieces for the deck. It was the end-point punctuation for what turned out to be a long, battering winter now in retreat, though it's only been days, really.
A friend confessed last week that she hasn't recovered from the hard winter she put in up north on the coast in Washington County. "I still need more rest," she said, as though reading the sentiments in my own mind. But hers was an easy enough exercise in clairvoyance; I've been exhausted since the weekend it snowed for 42 hours straight before stopping and leaving behind a stilled, silent world of white.
I find my spirits are lifting, though, with the early signs of spring life -- the mayflies dipping into quirky circles of flight, fluttering erratically in the lightest wind; the first golden spiderlings swinging across my path to the cabin, landing and stopping only for a split-second before hurrying off on whatever mission it is that requires eight legs to complete; the dog distracted in the half-light and dust of day's end, intent in the brush and lawn again, hunting not prey but soft green grass like lettuce.
Everything is priceless in the fleeting season of the spring ephemerals, the woodland flowers that bloom for a minute or two in May and surrender their space at last to that enchanted Cinderella of the frail perennials, the lady's slipper, in June. Their names are mantra, anywhere, everywhere, across the continent, wherever folk suffer winter and long for spring: hepatica, wild lavender, white and yellow violets, wild strawberry, trout lily, bloodroot, marsh marigold, wood anemone, bluet, spring beauty, red and painted trillium, starflower, Dutchman's breeches, squirrel corn and jack-in-the-pulpit.
A friend from Michigan emails each spring to tell me when the trillium have emerged in her part of the Midwest, a phenomenon that is a more variable phenology since climate change has placed a stranglehold on nature's sense of timing and survival. But we will hang on to this tradition as long as we live, I know, because flowers are fate and faith for us, the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting.
Paradise is a garden, after all, a wild one to start and only managed when the flawed tiller arrives on the scene. My own is a lawn with mounds of idly raked leaves and then a thicket beyond, utterly untended and unspeakably perfect in its ordered disarray of interdependent life.
I notice this spring that two large logs rolled themselves out of the forest and onto the lawn over the winter, in the same way certain rocks will jut out of earth like field potatoes, pressed to the surface by a late freeze. The devoted phoebe, too, has moved, selecting a location different from last year's but still nearby, returning at least to the "property" -- though, mercifully, she knows no such concept in her nesting world, only another eave, available and partly hidden, partly private.
She and I, it is reassuring to note, are looking for the very same thing: a familiar landscape that feels like a new address. She picks a place near the roof of the lean-to and prepares for young. I choose to rearrange the furniture, start a quilt that could not be pieced together while the dulled fingers of winter had me in their grip, scour the storeroom for paint brushes and mull over home improvements.
It's a passing instinct, as brief as sudden spring flowers or vernal pools. Pretty soon we will quit the house altogether for the out-of-doors, flee the woodlands for the shore. But for now, the luminous colors of migration hurrying in and on or a fortnight of graceful flowers are a measure of time's passing that carries grace and joy in equal measure,
No cold hearts live here, only the pulse of life rekindled and renewed. I could hold unmoving and taut as an intent doe, listening, right here, on the edge of forever. I could name this my heaven. But now that the sun has announced itself and sunsets are as late and muted as fashionable formal dinners, there is the whole newly outfitted world to visit. There is still too much to do, and the time, at length, is right.
North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6325 or at: