Aesthetics of early spring

Pussy willow 3

We expect spring to arrive a little each day.

But the world doesn’t thaw along a smooth gradient, it comes herky-jerky, in warm, cold, and wet gusts that lurch towards greenness. Eventually there will be a great bursting open and overnight blossoms will appear suddenly out of dead branches, like popcorn. But in the early days spring takes some false attempts before it works up the guts to throw off winter.

These liminal times can be physically and emotionally trying. The weather hurtles between extremes. The air offers a glimpse of where we’re going, and then a reminder of where we’ve been. You are always wearing the wrong kind of jacket. Cycling between weather-past and weather-future, I often find these lines from T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland in my head:

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

It’s all verbs, this time of year – breeding, stirring, mixing – and that encapsulates so perfectly why these cold, early spring days are such a peculiar mix between unsettling and joyful. If winter has a muted, slumbering energy, and spring is kinetic energy, these transitional days are all about potential energy. They are dreaming times, full of anticipation and visions of a freer life we’ll lead, without coats and boots. And I wonder if, coiled tightly inside their buds, the leaves and flowers are dreaming too.

We are all always on the verge of something, and never more so than while the whole world is about to burst open. The natural response is a greater attention to the world around us. An expectant looking, looking, looking. I study the bumps on dry branches, scanning for knots of tiny leaves. I ogle the green twists of tulips and the spiky leaves of crocuses. I get impatient. In my longing for spring, I’m a little desperate, and easily fooled. Any white fluttering up above might be the first petal of a magnolia. I don’t think I’m the only one. The first warm day makes biophilia urgent.

To watch spring (or any season) emerge, you might head over to Mary Jo Hoffman’s wonderful Still blog, which day-by-day shows her discoveries from nature. Yes, of course I know that the best place to study the aesthetics of spring is outside. But there’s something about Still blog, which shows just one thing a day, usually a small thing at large scale, with plenty of white space, that turns looking into a kind of meditation. With all the distractions pared away, you can really see the crimson flush at the base of the pussy willow buds, or the filigree of veins in the transparent new leaves. You might see new things. You might get to experience spring in a new way. And maybe you’ll give it some impetus to arrive a little faster.

Budding branches mjh

Birch catkins

First bud in march

Images: Pussy Willows, Budding Shrub, Poplar CatkinsPagoda Dogwood, all by Mary Jo Hoffman, on Still Blog

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2 Comments

  1. Thank you for both the T.S. Eliot quote and the amazing pictures from STILL. Here in Massachusetts spring is very late but the last vestiges of snow are finally disappearing.

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