Friday, May 25, 2018

winter into spring

“...the traveller picks his way from islet to islet,
cheered by the music of a thousand tinkling rills and rivulets
whose veins are filled with the blood of winter
which they are bearing off.”

~ Henry David Thoreau, Walden.

The arrival of spring in New England is obvious to the most absent-minded among us. We are brought out of ourselves by signs of future pleasant months. Liminality takes the changing forms of snow-into-rain, rusty-brown-into-yellow-green, lengthened daylight, all immersed in chilled wind currents. Light and air serve to provide context, as well as a palette of signs to illustrate new growth. Days are lengthened into evenings, and they recommence at early hours that had been immersed in darkness only weeks ago. Both in the city and the woods, the metamorphosis of seasonal transition is easily witnessed. Forest trails attest to a burgeoning combination of coniferous green that held forth through months of ice and raw cold, with sudden accents of yellows and reds coarsing through branches. And in the city, I recently marveled at new weeds shooting out from between cement sidewalk pavers. As much as these plants are considered nuisances, a pedestrian such as me can see a persisting manifestation of Augustine’s remark from City of God, that “creation longs to live.” Stems foment their spring escapes from beneath opaque concrete slabs, beating the crocuses to the punch. Surely, this must be admired.

Spring’s abrupt renewal is much more obvious in the mountains than along the seashore, where I live. The latter’s transformation is more subtle. New colors and gusts prompt new tastes and perspectives. Somehow, discoveries continue. If not entirely new, old-growth trees do renew. Hibernated creation awakens, urged ahead by new promise and rejuvenated spirit. One wonders if time is playing tricks, perhaps things have not really changed, and improvement is not possible. But such thoughts, in themselves, can thwart our thoughts into dead-end roads.

Taking to the roads at the cusp of seasonal change is an opportunity to closely witness an extraordinary renewal. Indeed, this is not to say the winter landscape is lifeless; not at all. It is a different sort of life, as northern climes tend toward the austere. Because the changes are so dramatic, the seasons abruptly replace one another in succession. Recently, I chose to drive southwest to the Berkshires, the mountainous region at the western extremities of Massachusetts. For years it’s been a place of both sanctuary, with the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy- as well as for serene hiking along trails including the Appalachian. At this time of the year, locations like this are not populous. There’s plenty of space to roam, just as it’s possible to see clear through sparsely-foliated forests. In a matter of weeks, some great river views will be completely concealed by growth. Before the arrivals of intense greens and bright tree blossoms, earth tones prevail. Surfaces are still bare enough to see stone strata, the foundational forest floor. Highest elevations still had snow in early May, and melted runoff added vigor to currents in and near the Housatonic River. I set out to find hints of spring, enjoying the ability to walk freely across dormant woods.

Watching the natural elements of the outdoors reawaken, we can tangibly notice how the substantial can grow forth from embrittlement. For an archival conservator, this is a captivating prospect. Rejuvenation has the connotation of new promise. Amidst deteriorative fears, there can be newness. By influence, natural renewal prompts refreshed spirits. Visiting places that are unlike my usual daily surroundings encourages me to savour the commonplace as extraordinary. Noticing the cold, sweet-smelling mountain air, I made sure to draw in plenty of deep breaths. Mountain skies and sunlight are also distinct, just as these can be unique in my home region near the ocean. When it was too overcast to watch a sunset, I was regaled by assembling storm clouds and succeeding downpours from the shelter of a covered porch. Indeed, such things will occur throughout the summer, but in much warmer air and with thicker cover- not quite like this!

Exploring, writing, and photographing are ways of observation. Integral to being a practitioner of these crafts is the ability to observe and study what I experience. In lesser moments there are repulsions, and in better moments there are admirations to commit to memory. But reflection- and even response- are not the full adventure. Observation demands participation. Witnessing the burgeoning spring along trails, waterways, and roads inspires creativity. I’m brought to remember those early-season summer camp days from childhood, and how unusual it was to be outdoors during weekdays. Until my late-adolescence, I did not excel in sports. I would enviously watch games from the sidelines. By 12, I was in the games, figuring out my strengths and abilities, relishing being part of the action.

Watching a spring rain from an ancient porch in Stockbridge, I thought of how recollections grow into prominence like garden perennials. I could not have predicted what would become integral parts of my canon of memory as an adult, so far away from schoolyards, playgrounds, and ballfields. But as with historic records, simply by virtue of having occurred, they are enshrined. No less now than all those years ago, there is no lasting contentment in idleness. Watching the appealing changes causes me to beware of lost opportunities. There is indeed a balance: knowing enough to savour, as well as knowing enough to be vigilant and productive. Unlike my forest discoveries of bright fledgling plants, I’ve yet to find tangible hints to provide direction. Without physical signs, the assurances must be along interior conduits. These are the unseen trails that must indefinitely lead to sustenance, regardless of season. Equally, that expectant hope must be sustained at all costs.