Rain falls in the night, a pattering through the open window on the mock orange bush. The rain winds through my half-asleep dreams of different places I’ve lived with open windows and falling rain. I’ve often thought of the moon as my constant, my anchor in the arc of the universe. Moonbeams fell on Helen of Troy’s face, too. But spring’s gentle rainfall? Such a sweet sound.
A rouge frost browned pieces of our May world, and the rain promises deeper green. The morning after the frost, a man in line at the post office told me he’d lived in Vermont all his 63 years and had seen frost in July. I detailed the frost damage to my daffodils; he shared his apple blossom woes.
July? I asked, are you sure?
He laughed, quite sure indeed.
As I lay listening, the morning songbirds began, a snippet, then a rising thread of song, pushing away the night.
Back about a hundred years ago when I started to read, my elementary school had these large books with colored pages. I read only on the right-hand pages, then flipped the book upside down, and read on the other side. The net effect was a perpetual mystery: I was reading forward, but there was always this tantalizing upside down text on the left-hand side. Could I dart my eyes there and jump ahead in the storyline?
The storyline had castles and princesses. I think of these books every spring, because Vermont spring colors are so darn brilliant — just like those colored pictures.
I’ve never seen those books again, although I searched for them for my own daughters.
May. Let’s never sugarcoat anything, never cheapen our world into an Instagram I’ve got more thanyou post. Snowflakes fell yesterday, even midday, swirling flakes. My daffodil petals were gnawed around the edges this morning. But it’s May. Spring alone: reason to live.
Oh sure, the May sunlight, the way the steady breeze tosses the growing grass all day, tugging new leaves open — the robins and sparrows chittering and nesting, singing as they fatten their nests, get their bird family going — even the woodchuck grazing beneath the apple tree, feasting on violets and fattening its sleek being — all beloved, all dear — but really, it’s the tree blossoms, the spring beauties, the dutchmen’s breeches, the Johny jump-ups scattered in whatever way and whatever place they need to emerge. What a world this is, our Vermont May season. Flowers.
Here’s a poem from David Budbill.
“The First Green of Spring”
Out walking in the swamp picking cowslip, marsh marigold, this sweet first green of spring. Now sautéed in a pan melting to a deeper green than ever they were alive, this green, this life,
harbinger of things to come. Now we sit at the table munching on this message from the dawn which says we and the world are alive again today, and this is the world’s birthday. And
even though we know we are growing old, we are dying, we will never be young again, we also know we’re still right here now, today, and, my oh my! don’t these greens taste good.
Ever enthusiastic, my oldest buys a blow-up paddle board, and we set off on a Saturday afternoon. Her sister wonders if the lake will be frozen yet. In 70 degree temps — a strange April spike — ice seems impossible, until it’s not.
While she paddles in the patch of open water, her sister and I sit on the dock that isn’t yet pulled into the lake, either. We’re in a marshy area where the peepers are mightily going at what they do best, and redwing blackbirds yodel their throaty calls. Two ducks cruise by, intent on something else that entirely eludes us, too, the male with his emerald head trailing the brown female.
We’re in t-shirts and shorts, spring giddy, eating crackers and some of that cheese the lovely Cabot Library gifted me for a talk. When I returned home that night, my youngest opened the box of cheese with joy. The chionodoxa blue flowers are blooming.
This year, I planted the garden how I was drawn to this patch of earth in spring — not how I thought I should plant it. For years now, I’ve been the most diligent of gardeners — all those tidy rows of beets and broccoli. This year, I ate some radishes and let the rest go to seed and flower. Marigolds run rampart. I duck beneath the sunflowers. Somewhere in the calendula the peppers are hidden.
There’s a definite metaphor here, a clear lesson, but to heck with that. August and flowers. They’ll last little enough as it is.
On my way home from Bookstock — a terrific book festival in Woodstock, Vermont — I stop at a farmstand for strawberries. I’m a little dizzy with heat, with talking, with the sheer writingness of the day. No one’s around, and I admire the lake across the road.
The farm owner backs up his truck. End of the day, he’s pulling in what remains in the wooden stand. We talk for a little about the pontoon boats and how the lake is surprisingly deep at his shoreline across the road, a perfect temperature for swimming.
He tells me about the alarm that sounded in his greenhouse recently when the overnight temperature dipped near to forty. We’re standing in near-90 degree heat but Vermont weather is fickle. The farm owner was a patron in the library where I worked. I bought political books for him that maybe no one else but he and I read. Cold winter days, he’d sometimes appear and read silently for an afternoon and then leave with a stack of books.
This day I’ve driven on blue highways down the heart of Vermont, along rivers and through narrow valleys, past homesteads with fat gardens, through classic white clapboard villages and a town center dominated by a post office and a rusting flag pole. On one farm, TRUMP is painted on a metal storage box beside the farmhouse where the roof is bitten out in pieces. Lilac bushes cover the first floor windows. An RV in the side yard appears to be the occupied space.
I buy two pints of strawberries. The farmer loads up his truck. I stand at dusty roadside in the hot breeze. Bring it on, I think. Summer. The strawberries are the sweetest I’ve tasted in years. Nourishment from the goddesses.