An old familiar brought the spirit of rebirth alive.

It might have been an element of a religious rite; I have celebrated all the Easter rituals, I believe, since childhood and hold to — and are held by — them still. Even so, what gave me a sudden joyous awe of resurrection was an unexpected, though hardly startling, return, dawning in the most unlikely place at a moment I could not have predicted.

It was the silvery glow of a wild pussy willow that caught me, the catkins like velvet light in the dusk coming on at the end of the workday.

I was wheeling home in the car, negotiating a rail crossing on the last road to the cabin in which I dwell, surrounded by woods and farther down by farmland. There is a stop sign on either side of the train tracks, and I was slowing for the required check, up and down the tracks, when the little light left in the early evening struck the bush just so, illuminating what were already a hundred little lights of life reasserting itself in spring.

I felt a little tick of happiness jolt me for a split second, followed by a kind of peace-in-companionship that the reiterations of the natural world always deliver to me.

“Ah, the pussy willows are out,” I said aloud to no one but the rich thin air, as the SUV rattled over the iron rails and I started up the last hill home. For once, it did not occur to me to dash to the cargo carrier for garden clippers and go back for some thin straight branches to encase in a vase with cut daffodils to celebrate the spring.

My ordinary scavenging skills had gone dumb in the instant sight took over and the pussy willows came to life for me.

It was enough to glimpse them there — still there — one phenomenal thing unchanged in a world numbed by unremembered, everyday chaos — in governments counting pennies, in Pacific coastal homes sliding into the sea, in runs on faraway foreign banks with tendrils of consequence beyond their borders, in everything that seems lately to be running out, or running down, exhausted.

I had thought earlier that day that I would have to spend some time out alone, except for the dog, in some fields near my home, or wander at least along a few waste spaces where it would be possible to enjoy the quiet for a while and admire the undeniable coherence of decline, its beauty and brevity, its inescapable law. I am not given to Keatsian musings (“Many a time I have been half in love with easeful death”), but neither am I always gifted with joy or graced with hope.

In darker hours, I have found, a ramble among the winter weeds, through the remains of the sedge and the tassels of nut grass or the twisted wild briar, with the sodden cups of nests still clinging to the branches of a stripped shrub, permits the old, accustomed grace to return. The form of death that is part of life and a foreshadowing of new generations is preserved for discovery, with natural elegance, in a blown cat-tail or a split milkweed, seeds spewing like wax spilling from a candle.

Even if the dried and crumbling weeds can’t communicate the message of new life, you can always turn to the edge of the wetlands to watch the green shoots poke out of the wet soil of a ditch lined with brittle, gray reeds.

Rail though you might against the ways of the would, you cannot resist the force of life from coming back around. If nature has the slightest chance or the most Spartan conditions, it awakens with the light and stirs in warmth. Give it nothing but a culvert and mud — the container of the Earth, the organic promise and baptism of water enough to slit a seed or unfurl a sheathed stem — and life will always be waiting and watching.

Grace, after all, is always green or blue — on a water planet where plants keep the world alive. Even evergreens know how to migrate, according the clockwork of the conifers, cones dropping, seeds carried off by busy songbirds or mammals on the run. Even the Sargasso shows how everything swirls as one, the multiplicity of life forms flowing on currents coming from every direction, brimming with the detritus of life.

There is no waste, no death, without resurrection in its wake. You can gaze into an empty tomb and rejoice; look into the endless night sky studded with pinpricks of light and wonder; make marvel the mood you will never abandon. The common message calms and animates all there is: Life goes on.

North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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