Place & Time
It pays to remember,
while deep in December,
that what I most fear
in the north hemisphere
is not what I might get
as a promise, a threat,
or an ever-so-slight
bit of tremor, of fright—
if I happen to be
Today, a nearly perfect day of blue and gold and bracing new-leafed green, demanded that it be enjoyed from outside the house. We, my darling chauffeur-companion-partner and I, obeyed. We went to the park.
Being in a massive park, but one zoned as a number of separate and more intimate places devoted to strolling, picnics, camping, horseback riding, fishing, and the like, we found no shortage of pleasant places to revel in the marvels of a sweet north Texas spring day. Tiny, starlike rain lilies leaping up from the sleepy clay shine like miniature suns but are even more sweetly pretty, somehow, when they’re nestling little pollinator insects. The swell of tree fungus at the base of a stump is pierced by the skyward plunge of a dainty but strong sprout of new growth from the cut tree.
And in the short, wooded path at the park’s entrance, where the last years’ drought has compromised the forested patch of this little zone to the point where a careless spark or a small lightning strike blackened the undergrowth and seared the feet of the pines, the leaf-mould blanketing the path is whispering with scurrying insects. Dragonflies zip, crickets hum, and a flurry of minute emerald beetles flashes across the shadows into the warm sunlight on the piney dirt in search of other green things to dedicate to the extension of their fleeting little lives.
Renewal and refreshment are all around at this time of year, even in those parts of the hemisphere not so visibly on the brink of bloom. The very knowledge that the season of change and growth is near gives us a little nudge, when we let it, to remember that we, too, might be capable of change and growth. We, too, might bloom, with just a touch of faith and effort.
For all that we think of lives as finite and fleeting and time, constantly racing by, I don’t think we take it so seriously when we tell someone who’s waiting for us, “just a second.” After all, so much can happen in a second or less, yes, evening in a millisecond, as we can now measure it. Races are won and lost by the tiniest increments of time. On one side of the little mark signifying a clock’s second-long increments is the Now, and before the very thought of it is completed, Now already resides on the other side of the mark.
No matter how protracted the process leading up to it, one nanosecond is the last one I will spend alive, and the next one will be the first one in which I’m dead. The thought has no moral value one way or another, and not much emotional value either, since as soon as it is likely to seem fully important to me in the most urgent of terms, it’ll be all done.
The only real value for me, in practical terms, is if I invest enough thought in this very moment of being still alive to commit to being wide awake as well: deeply present, and grateful for all of the good that is in my life at every piece of time I’m granted along the way. Whether it’s thanks to honoring spiritual values in the practice of mindfulness or it’s because I’m keenly aware of those lives that, however brightly they’ve burned, were far too short, it matters little unless I take advantage of the perspective these afford me and live my own life more richly because of it. Regardless of how I choose to spend this magnificent currency of breath and sentience and health and hope, even if it’s on sitting on a park bench and holding hands with my beloved (one of the highest and best things I know how to do, to be sure), making a conscious and committed choice is well worth the effort, and following through, all the better.
Just now, the value of mindful living in the present is particularly lovely because we are on the cusp of spring here in north Texas. And if you’ve read even a few of my locale-related posts, you can appreciate just how fleeting and tenuous is the very idea of springtime and how ephemeral its joys. I would be a fool to be so encumbered by longing for things past or worrying about things yet to come that I don’t pause, however briefly, to savor the wonder of what these treasured nano-joys can bring to my existence.
Change of Season
Between the rain spells, when the sun is glinting onto rose and road
The youthful smells of spring are hinting that ahead the broken code
Winter left in seed and scion will reveal its inner life,
Where what had appeared as dying wakes again with newness rife.
Open eyes and open windows! Let indoors the fresh new air,
Breathing in what melts the snows and pushes out all winter’s cares.
So renew the self and senses and embrace the growth and light
Breaking down all old defenses, setting earth again aright.
There’s a sweetness in the morning when the sun has yet to rise
And the blooms lie, still unopened, under sleeping butterflies;
When the stars still wink and glimmer, while the frogs yet softly sing—
There’s a graciousness at midday when, amid the racing streams,
All arise and put in motion yesterday’s profoundest dreams;
When the past its chains has loosened on the race of all alive,
There’s a calm amid the evening when the birds come to the trees’
Respite from the day of flying, echoed by our evening ease;
When the cares of noon have lessened as the dusk swept into place—
There’s a beauty to the nighttime, glorious and peaceful bliss,
Treasured for the kind renewal of the souls that rest in this
Cradling darkness and this languor, in this place of mending rest
I would take these hours’ presents as my guide through seasons long,
Through a lifelong path that’s pleasant as a choir’s finest song;
I would be a seasoned traveler, happy above everything,
If my song could last forever,
Spring has fully returned to north Texas. That means repeated visitations from wind and tornado warnings, thunderstorms that lead to flash floods, and threats of baseball sized hail. More often, though, it means warm temperatures and plants seeming to grow 50% taller in a day. And it brings on bud, leaf and bloom with a flourish that reminds me how showy and productive a Texas garden can be at its—however brief—peak.
A Saturday outing is splashed with roadside waves of Showy Primrose, Paintbrush and Bluebonnets, and the trees are bursting with a dense, cheering liveliness that belies the likelihood of a relatively short span of such intense lushness.
Our own garden is reawakening, sending up promises left and right of everything from capsicum and tomato, parsley and kale to the same primrose standard-bearers ushering in roses, Salvia and Echinacea. The saplings garnered of the city’s largesse in the annual tree giveaway—redbud, Mexican Plum and Texas Ash, to date—are awakening as well. Though the odd temperature fluctuations and ice storms this winter hindered their bloom, they are leafing out in style. And as much as I’ve been known to vilify and slander all of squirrel-dom as thieving rats, I will grant them all manner of amnesty for their one generous act of planting acorns across our property and providing a welcome lagniappe of oak seedlings in my planters for the increase of our little backyard grove.
For shorter-term flair, it would be hard to argue with iris as my chief fancy at this time of year. Always a favorite flower for both my partner and me, it was the centerpiece of our wedding design, courtesy of Mom’s garden, and an indulgent purchase last fall in the form of a self-gifted bunch of fans for the garden here. Along with the classic lavender bearded and highly perfumed variety given us by a dear friend, the newcomers are flourishing in their bed in the front corner of our lot, and I am wholly enamored of their flashy, curling flounces and the radiant tendrils of their beards. The graphic drama sustained by their swordlike leaves after the flowers pass is a pleasing bonus of irises’ appeal, but the magnificence of a bed in full bloom will always be one of my most beloved signs that this season of nature’s great exuberance is in full swing, a grand hurrah in floral form.
I’m far from being the world’s best gardener. I may have the perfect skill set as a lazy dilettante, loving the design process and having a tremendous appreciation for all of the non-laborious joys of a garden, whether it’s well tended or not. A bark-boring beetle or a sculptural skeletonized leaf can be as beautiful as any spectacular, pristine lily or a lilac’s heady bloom. A moss-choked stone path is as glorious as a graceful fountain encircled by perfect tea roses and rosemary. And I have had quite the aversion to trench digging, rock picking and weeding ever since I was old enough to be conscripted by my parents for the purpose.
But I also know that if a garden is to have any hope of continuity and flourishing in flower, it needs occasional attention to such details, at the least, from Nature’s seemingly random hand. The gusts and waterings, composting and tillage performed by her weather and her handyman crew of creatures all do their parts in keeping the landscape in beautiful form. Even better chance of thriving if I do my part, too, having noticed what details might better prosper under my attentions, however slight they might be.
I was reminded of it recently as I watched a family make their valiant attempt at getting a group portrait. Flanked by grandparents, the parents stood holding their two little boys: Dad, in back, held the eight month old and Mom, ahead, wrangled the three-year-old. No one seemed able to get the normally placid toddler in front to hold still for even one quick photo, or to understand why he was so unusually squirmy, until someone finally noticed what I could see better from my side angle: that the baby was cheerily leaning forward at intervals and yanking his big brother’s hair. Detail noticed, problem solved. Had that adorable little scalawag been able to keep up the practice, I have little doubt there would’ve been need, eventually, for an expulsion from that particular little Eden.
A flock of American Robins passing the area through may not seem especially worthy of note to some people. But if, like me, you remember them as one of the prevalent birds around you when you were growing up, you might notice it with a certain eager delight when several dozen of them descend on your holly tree and Indian Hawthorn hedge all of a sudden and dive on the berries like divas on diamonds. I noticed.
I had been seeing the signs of the early northward migration already, as the grackles that never entirely leave north-central Texas no matter what the season or weather were in ever larger clouds that swept from field to field and perched in growing masses at those points on the trees, hedges, bridges, billboards and power lines where we come to expect them to collect at dusk. It seems to me as though the sheer volume of grackles in the region means some have to migrate, however slightly, just to stay on the fringes of their preferred climate, so when the seasons change I do see even more than the typical congregation of those whistling, flitting avians hanging about on every corner and post.
But the robins, well, they are not so often seen in my own back garden. To be sitting at my desk and hear that familiar liquid warbling is to be transported to when I was climbing the backyard apple trees of my childhood. I looked up on that more recent afternoon from the predictable digital ‘pile’ of email and saw the unexpected flash of russet on a bird’s breast as it streaked by my window, then another and another, and suddenly felt I was in the midst of a happy storm of robins as they dashed and dove, a modest flock perhaps but enough in number to nearly strip the hedge and the little tree before retreating to the woods of the ravine behind for the evening. By next morning, there were fewer that came back for a final pit stop before the whole collective took wing to continue north. They came and went so fast, and moved so quickly and stealthily in the shrubbery in the meantime that I had no moment to grab a camera and commemorate the welcome moment.
The moment will, however, remain, just as the childhood pleasures were revived in the first chirruping calls and those quick glimpses of rosy feathers: robins will stay in my heart as long as the memories remain.
When shadow steals across my eyes, when chill sits in my soul, when cries
Of hopelessness and bitter cold would turn me hard, regretful, old,
I turn my memory to when I cradled happiness, and then
Remember that what shaped me so was love, the kind I came to know
From those great luminaries whose wisdom it was to seek and choose,
From the remotest needful place, pursuit of happiness and grace,
Who told in kindly, teaching voice that peace and joy are bought by choice,
That when the frozen dark descends, we’ll find our light
It’ll be a while yet. Spring and its sprouts aren’t making any particular headway even here in Texas just now, and I don’t expect to see any more than tiny hints of promising green until the current cycle of typically unpredictable and radically changeable temperatures settle into their usual late-February-into-March kindliness. But I can’t help thinking ahead.After all, there’s such a compelling sense of momentum that comes with those first tiny glimpses of something ever so delicate and yet determinedly pointy that forces its way out of hard ground and harder branches. The very fact that they can emerge from such unwilling sources tells me that once they’ve driven through those barriers, not only is there little that could stop them, they will pick up speed as they go, unfolding, uncurling, swelling, bursting into bloom, and finally, enlarging into the full fruits of the season. Such a suffusion of newness and energy and purpose!I look forward, in the same way, to some of my many projects coming to fruition, as I so rarely know what the final outcome will be, really. What seems like a perfectly lovely little green bell pepper can grow up into a dramatically bold but even sweeter scarlet capiscum, if nurtured and tended along its sojourn of development; in the same way, what may have begun as a quick little one-line idea sketch with pencil or pen while I sat in the back of a rehearsal hall or in the waiting room before an appointment could well grow up, over time, into a digitally enhanced illustration full of color and texture and layers that I hadn’t planned at the start. Whatever the result, it begins with the green bud or the green light of an idea, and I cannot resist the allure of that color, beckoning me with its promises and possibilities.