There really is nothing quite like spring. It has somehow surprised me for 62 years in a row. One would have thought I’d be used to it by now. It seems as if at every corner there is something brand baby new that’s truly not a “first timer” at all. It’s not like I’ve never experienced each one of these items or events before. They happen each year between May and June. And yet I’m totally mystified, wildly surprised, and inconceivably stunned by the turn of events on nearly each and every day at this time of year!
Take today for example. I woke up and a fine mist filled the air. Gray clouds hovered above. Looking out over our overgrown meadow I noticed a haze of green that seem to somehow lay on every living plant on the whole landscape. It was like Monet had sneaked into our field during the night and put his impressionistic touch on the entire view. And while a breath of fresh air may contain a pound of pollen this time of year, well, it was still a breath of fresh air (of course causing my eyes to water and my nose to fill with pints of mucus).
Our bloodhounds had runny eyes too. They seem to be sensitive to our plants reproductive processes as much as me. But nevertheless they couldn’t wait to get outside. Early on I took them out for a quick trip into our yard to empty their bladders. As I often am I was in nothing by my underwear. I see that as normal behavior given we have no neighbors and our back yard cannot be seen from the road. The chipmunks and song birds could care less if my favorite fashion is gray fruit of the loom. The air was pleasantly cool. One might even say invigorating and for a brief moment I thought about taking the dogs up the trail right then and there. And then I remembered my lightly clad body and determined that some turkey hunter might be lurking amongst the bushes. No, the walk had better wait.
The hounds had a different idea. James Fenimore Cooper was off leash and decided to follow a track. Adia, on leash, pulled ahead. It was all I could do to keep her under control. I had little traction in my bare feet and my underwear barely gave me enough extra ballast to hold back her solid one hundred thirty pounds of muscle as she tried to follow Cooper. Cooper wasn’t on the chase long. He returned after a few moments smiling from ear to ear which is a pretty big smile when you consider a bloodhound’s ears nearly reach the ground of both sides of their head. I took advantage of his good mood, hustled he and Adia back into the house. I slipped into a pair of khaki hiking shorts, you know the kind with 10,000 pockets, and went out onto our deck. The hounds followed along and I sat at our outdoor bar table where I could enjoy a hot cup of Java.
The early morning air was symphonic. Warblers warbled their melodies, robins sang for territorial rights, and a pileated woodpecker kept rhythm somewhere in the distance at about 160 beats per second. There were even a few unabashed peepers still peeping past their normal hours. Had I heard this exact concert before? Most likely not but something inside this cobwebbed laden mind told me that this was a repeat event. My dear departed mother might have called it a deja vu.
Maureen had checked into work early and so I had the house to myself. The mist was clearing out, the sky to the northwest seemed to be opening up a bit, and the sun in the southeast was trying to pry open a space between the bands of clouds just so I could take official notice that this was a spring day of unusual proportions.
Following the cup of coffee the dogs and I had a quick breakfast. Adia, who we refer to as a food hound, was very disappointed at my meager offerings. Not unlike her human friend, me, she had put on some unwanted extra pounds over the winter and is on a weight reducing diet. I have to admit that she carries her weight better than I do. Her fur can conceal, at least partially, the excess weight. I am less successful at concealing the excess weight; especially in the warmer months. Like a burgeoning walrus my physique could use a little toning.
With that in mind, and me fully clothed, the dogs and I head up the trail for an hour of hiking amongst all the glories of a beautiful spring morning. We have an old road that wonders through our forest. It’s been there for scores of years. We keep the woods road in reasonable shape because it gives access into the heart of the forest where we can harvest fire wood. It also makes a terrific hiking trail. The one disadvantage to this road is that it is a steep uphill climb. On this day the steep incline helps me to walk slower and as a result can enjoy the spring ephemerals.
At the first patch of clintonia I am shocked by its beauty! The plant has deep green broad leaves, a delicate yellow flower, and eventually hosts a blue berry-like fruit (hence the local name blue bead). This dense patch of spring green contrasts sharply to the brown decaying leaves left on the forest floor from last years deciduous leaf crop. As I examine this beautiful flower I can’t help but wonder why I am so surprised by its beauty. Perhaps it is simply because it is a fleeting annual presentation that I only get to witness for a short time. Perhaps it is that as I age my memory is not as good as it once was. It really makes no difference because I am delighted that it feels like I am experiencing this for the first time. Like a child who holds their first firefly I am downright giddy with joy.
Adia is not as interested in the beauty of the clintonia as I am. She smells something in the air and in trying to locate the scent runs around me a couple of times so that I am wrapped up in her long leash. As I try to step out of the lasso she pulls hard and I topple over like a windswept tree. I land with a distinct thud. The grace in my physical being took a leave of absence some years ago. I am humbled by my descent. Pride be damned I pull my feet out of the leash wrapped around my ankles, stand up, and head up the trail. I figure the limp that I now have developed from my unpremeditated landing will disappear with time.
Around the corner on this woods road there is an opening in the hardwoods where a sea of canada mayflowers and wild oats grows. To really appreciate the beauty of these stands of plants you have to get on your stomach and look across the plane of greenery. It occurs to me that had luck been with me my earlier fall might have placed me right amongst a patch such as this. Luck not being one of my better acquaintances I lower myself to my hands and knees and then to my belly to get this unique view. I imagine I am some small creature like a white footed mouse and try to see this low plant world through their eyes. And while I’m not sure that I really see what they might view I am confident that this vantage point is unique. So unique, in fact, I wonder if I’ve done this before? There’s my dear departed mother’s deja vu again!
James Fenimore Cooper the bloodhound comes over to see what the heck I’m doing. He lays on his belly next to me and peers through the vegetation. He snorts in a huge breath to catch the scent and looks at me out of the corner of his eye. His head is really only about a foot away from mine. We both lay there for a second (Adia remains standing with her nose in the air but still attached via a leash to my left arm). Cooper turns his head and takes a long lick of my face starting with my chin and extending over my glasses before getting up off his belly and bounding away. His thick ropey saliva covers the lenses and everything I look at now looks like a blurred decoupage. Although this is an interesting perspective I resist the urge to let in linger and clean my lenses with the sleeve of my shirt.
Forging up the trail again I notice that the clouds have for the most part lifted and shots of blue sky can be seen between the tree branches, weighty with recent green foliage, above my head. Wide open sun lit skies make the day seem more open and certainly more optimistic. At the next turn I bump into some painted trillium along the edge of the woods road. The white and pink flowers stand out on top of the dark green leaves attached to the stalk of the plant. They are breathtakingly beautiful! Like most trillium these glorious flowers will only a week or so and their image will retreat into the recesses of my mind until next year at this time. It is this temporary nature of spring wildflowers that makes them so extraordinary. The “now you see them, now you don’t” nature of the trillium’s existence heightens their special character amongst woodland plants. Savoring the wonder of experiencing them in their natural environment comes easily to me. I am awash in art of the nature. I am bathing in the beauty of renewed life. In my estimation this is an annual baptism that has no equal. The love of our planet and its connection to my spiritual existence becomes so clear and so affirmed.
The hounds find a nice patch of moss to roll in. Adia, still feeling the effects of what she considers a meager breakfast, attempts to eat some of the moss and the other vegetation it encompasses as if it were a salad bar. After some dedicated chewing motion she spits out about half of what she took in, meaning the other half was swallowed. I’m thinking in her mind that this low calorie foodscape is ripe for the picking. In her hound’s mind desperate times require desperate measures. Clearly her gastronomic appetite leaves much room for improvement.
Nearing the top of the trail near an old cabin that was abandoned in the woods more than 30 years ago we turn around. The sun in the southern sky is at out backs but this whole new spring world of life and living is in front of us. Around each corner there will be an awaiting adventure, a priceless piece of new life, a beginning that respects the past.
Everything is new again, at last.
Written for www.wildramblings.com in May 2014.