“Nature’s first green is gold, her hardest hue to hold.”
I am seeing my seventy-sixth spring. The first, I don’t remember, because I was only four months old. And most of the rest tend to blur into clumps — the springs of my New Jersey childhood; the springs of my adolescence; those from my college years; those from just after — each clump has its own resonance and emotion.
Now that I am 75, the spring is more poignant for the fact I have so few left to experience.
When I was a child, springs were so far separated from each other, they were wholly new each time. They augured the end of the school year and the beginning of an eternal summer vacation. Now, they come thrusting upon each other like jostling ticket-holders in a queue, pushing toward the head of the line. Through that door, though, is an end.
Through my twenties and into my thirties, I was living in North Carolina, and spring brought what was called “mud season,” when the ground thawed and turned into muck, which caught your shoes as you walked. The air was still crisp and the trees just budding, but it was clear winter was over and daffodils were already yellow. Next step, the redbuds and then the dogwoods. I’m afraid winters just aren’t as cold anymore, and the ground never really freezes. Climate change is obvious for anyone with enough years to remember.
It is often said that spring is a rebirth, as the seasons circle around and the grey and brown of naked winter trees turn first yellow-green (nature’s “first gold”) and then leaf subsides to leaf, darkening to the deep forest green that augurs summer. Animals rise from burrows; bees begin circling gardens; birds squawk and chatter; the sun rises higher in the sky each day.
But that is not spring for me. Instead, at my age, the changing seasons are like mile-markers on a highway, and each passing one means there are fewer in front of me. It is a straight line rather than a cycle.
As the years are squeezed, so the pressure increases to take it all in, to pay attention to each small detail, to garner pleasure from the tiniest bits. What once was simple pleasure is now joy — an increase in appreciation for what I am going to have to leave behind.
I sit on the deck behind the house I’m visiting in the North Carolina Piedmont, in the scant shade that the freshest, newest leafs make before fully fledging their trees, and listen to the wrens and nuthatch, the rattle of the woodpecker. I feel the warming air and look up to the clouds shifting against the blue.
It is a sensuous recognition of the variety the planet holds. The many greens of the newest foliage. The varied textures of the leaves, smooth, dentate, glabrous or slick.
The fullness in my chest as I take all this in, is a form of love. I watch the new spring. It is now Earth Day once again. The world is ticking on. This blue planet — this green planet — and the parent will outlive its child.
One of these springs, perhaps even this one, will be my last. My hand is always at my lips bidding adieu.
When I was a young man, each loss, however devastating, was temporary, an emptied pool to be refilled by a gushing spring. But now that has changed, and I know that the final loss will bring only oblivion. I hold on to what I love with tighter grasp. A bumble bee hovers; the cat yawns; a breeze teases the upper tree branches; a cardinal yawps.
I want to hold it all tight in my arms.