Quickenings in spring
Nature's Notebook - Tim Abbott
Lately I have been feeling a good deal like the Mole from Grahame’s enchanting story. There was a chorus of spring peepers singing praise songs in the twilight when I stepped outside last evening. Nature’s Great Revival is underway. The maple sap run is over, the salamanders are on the march and the first osprey’s are back at the shore along with the river herring. The finches at the feeder are shedding their olive drab for canary yellow and redwings rasp in the marshlands. Our human neighbors emerge from their dens on about the same schedule as the local black bears, shaking off their winter torpor and reclaiming their sometimes overlapping territories from long disuse.
If the senses of our species were not dulled by progress and evolution, they would quicken with every fresh scent on the warm spring wind. They would pulse with the first impossible bloom of skunk cabbage, literary melting its way through the frozen earth through the heat of its cellular respiration. They would feel the stirring of the aged and tattered mourning cloak, one of the longest-lived butterflies, re-emerging in senescence to mate with the impulse of youth. They would thrill with the drone of insects drawn to sticky buds and rank wet earth.
This is the season of quickenings. The word itself derives from the old English “cwic,” meaning living or alive, but its modern usage is also appropriate for a season of accelerations. The fetus is said to quicken when its movements can be felt in the womb. The heart quickens with life and vitality. The poetic language of the Nicene Creed proclaims the second coming “in glory to judge the quick and the dead.” It is no accident that the Christian celebration of Easter falls at this time, when new life is self-evident.
My birthday is also an early spring arrival (April 12). In these parts, the daffodils will be in full bloom a week afterward; as a young boy, I worked out for myself that the last patch of snow would be gone the week before. The first of the spring ephemerals are working their way upward in the bare light below the leafless trees. Dutchman’s britches, wild leeks, trout lily and trillium usher in April’s wildflowers, along with the winking yellow eyes of blood root and clusters of marsh marigolds adding their splash of color to shadowy wetlands.
All these quickenings take place in a brave, bright time when frogs lay eggs in ice-rimmed pools and early birds battle for prime nesting sites. Even as the season advances, a fickle rain can blight the apple’s bloom just as surely as longer days call forth its flowers. All around us, nature is striving, seeking, obeying urges as involuntary as breathing. Spring is a serious business, yet still given over to the domain of the heart. “Hang spring cleaning,” says the industrious Mole, with a spirit that soars on diaphanous wings. Even a raw wet day has a sweet expectancy, like a kite that strains on its tether, ready to take wing.
Tim Abbott is program director of Housatonic Valley Association’s Litchfield Hills Greenprint. His blog is at greensleeves.typepad.com.
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