So much appears in spring, it seems counter intuitive to think of it as a season of disappearance. Trees are full of blossoms, from the silky petals of magnolias to the rows of white cherries that line roadways and sidewalks. The buds of the maple in my yard are like small flowers, red bleeding in the veins of tiny green leaves. The crowns of hardwoods on the hills to the south soften as rose buds break open to the chartreuse of new growth.
David and I went for a hike yesterday and the branches of bushes and trees were covered with specks of leaves, a slight fuzzing of the views we could still catch as we climbed. By the time we walk that trail again, the views will be gone. A riot of leaves will have filled in all the spaces that let in some distance, and there will be walls of green wherever we look.
Sitting on the back deck in morning sun, we can still see the neighbors’ yards and the road on the other side of the brook. Soon the apple trees beyond the garden beds will fill in and the trees along the brook will make a privacy fence for our back yard. The road and neighbors’ yards will disappear, and so will we.
Like everything, spring is a paradox. The green world expands, and our views constrict. As I say in one of my poems, that’s “the nature of nature.”
Flat Meadow Brook has frozen over. The water that was running open a week ago is now buried under layers of ice, muffled to a deep rumble. I walked to the brook just to have a look, but what caught me was the fungus growing from a log fallen along the bank. In the monochrome winter woods, I was captured by the shades of sage against snow. Glorious color.
Full disclosure — I picked up this stone yesterday, but it got out shadowed by that spectacular sunset yesterday evening. Earlier in my walk, as I reached a clearing in the woods, I could see the last of the sun lighting the tops of the trees. I used to watch the same thing years ago, sitting on the side of the baseball and soccer field watching games when Sam was in middle school. As the sun would go down behind us, the line of light on the trees to the east would move up and up until it slipped off into sky. Here’s a poem from those many years ago, one of many in an unpublished manuscript influenced by my fascination with physics and the way trees manifest the immutable laws of the universe.
The light draws a line on the crowns
that moves down as the sun
rises, or up as it sets.
It’s the world’s line
between is or is not, the world’s
shutter opening and closing
as the globe turns along the loop
that draws all bodies
in the same spinning path, tracking
our groove in the universe so we always
know where we’re going even as we rush
forward into the airless dark.
Granite ledge edges
Tree-tufted valley below
Yellow sodden green.
Any blossom in March is a blessing. The pink geranium and oxalis plants have been with me for five years now; out on the porch each summer, back inside to winter over and send out flowers as a counter to the monochrome tones of winter.
But already there’s color in the hillsides of hardwoods, the faint blush of the buds just beginning to let go, responding to the lengthening light. Here’s a poem from year’s ago, that wonders about that color and what we see of light and dark.
What if you failed to notice
low sun on the south trunk of the maple,
its shadow side already drifting
to dark, the horizon ready to assume
the indigo hue of the hillsides
of hardwood, winter tight buds?
We’re only given one run
at the sequence of consequence
that stems from noticing or not,
from being in the woods past dusk,
watching the sky grow grey,
laced by black maples.
“Look at that tree,” David said. We’d been following the snowmobile trail that runs past our house for several miles, the fresh snow well packed for our cross-country skis. “It looks like a tree in England.”
The oak tree does look like many of the trees we saw as we walked across England last summer. Sitting at the edge of a yard bordering an open field, the tree stands by itself, which is common in English pastures — a single tree with an unimpeded crown, standing grand and full, left to grow on its own for decades and decades.
I know this oak tree, and in fact have been so stuck by it I wrote a poem about it many years ago. The poem asks a question I’ve yet to answer.
If there’s an oak I recall
from year to year for the fineness
of its winter crown against dusk sky
as I climb from woods to cross
the Bailey’s fields, its branches a black
articulation against last light,
do the scars of the intervening year,
matter, all those months without considering
this simple view, now new
and long remembered all at once?
The early blossoming trees and bushes are ringed with color, their pink and white petals fallen like petticoats that have been dropped into the grass. I first saw this a few weeks ago in Tennessee, where the azaleas were finishing up their blooming circle and dropping their blaze of colors. Now I see it here in New Hampshire, again with azaleas and apple and cherry trees. I love the richness of color in the landscape now, trees at their peak of showing off. Here is a poem from long ago that comes to mind every year at this time.
What is the weight of a flower, the weight
of a tree bearing such blatant intent?
Every mass of blossoms, snow cloud,
exclamation, exuberance of fruit
to come, has a future, a history,
a moment of abandon, petals
splayed wide, drawing pollen to the core.
The wilt and decay towards apple
is hidden in new leaves, riches spent,
riches returned, petals salting the grass.
David and I landed back in New Hampshire yesterday afternoon, after a week away. Having been in Tennessee, we were used to fully leafed out trees and flowering azaleas and roses and peonies. But coming home to a week’s worth of bud growth on the trees here, the growing grass, the violets popping up in my yard and garden, was a welcome scene. Trees are like grand flowers in NH this time of year, as their buds break into catkins and furry pods of unfurling leaves, blurring the landscape with red and gold. I wrote this poem about 15 years ago, but still remember it every year at this point in the season.
I don’t inhabit my skin.
Here’s a story that hasn’t been told
about the trees, first budding,
branch tips tinting the horizon.
Trees don’t inhabit their bark;
all parts are one wisdom, one being
translated through one set of roots,
fibers drinking from the same soil,
then feeding that soil when dead.
Afternoons cloud over as expected,
dimming the sunlight that torches
those reds, oranges, yellows
of leaf buds splitting open to green.
Now begins gradual disappearance —
the long view constricts to the brevity
of the yard. And on this side
I disappear, my skin and stories
coming with me.
Morning moon floats cream
Light falling into dark trees
Sun’s color coming.
The botanical garden in Montreal is spectacular. It’s considered one of the most important botanical gardens in the world, due to the extent of its gardens and plant collections, and is also one of the largest. With over 181 acres, 10 greenhouses, more than 26,000 species of plants, arranged in stunning thematic gardens, it’s a mind-boggling treasure. Every path David and I followed took us to another visual delight.
While we were taking photographs of the trumpet like seed heads of water lilies in the Chinese garden pool, a man came up behind us and said, “It’s so beautiful. You could go all the way to China and not see anything as beautiful as this.” As I agreed he asked if we’d seen the bonsai collection around the corner, which we hadn’t. We followed a path around another corner, and there was miniature grandeur, perfectly shaped and sculpted tiny trees, some older than 100 years. The living art of plants exemplified by the bonsai trees spoke for all that this botanical garden represents — finding and holding beauty so that it can speak its own language.