How can it be, at my advanced and advancing age, that only four seasons, circling round and round again continue to amaze me each time they take their turn and reappear? Like a church, Full Moon Cottage and the neighboring Glacial Drumlin Trail move through cycles, with attendant mysteries, rituals, sacraments, and an ever-changing choir to accompany these. And, if anything, each year’s cycle of seasons becomes more precious and startling, perhaps because I’m ever more acquainted with the energy required for the transformations they create. A rainstorm, overnight, shook off the bud casings and sang out the tender leaves on our fruit trees and along the trail. I went to sleep knowing the trees held the possibility of leaves, and woke to a realized mass of fluttering green foliage, newborn and tentative. The world is a nursery crammed with infants in spring. I devour these mysteries entirely and delightedly. Within a week or two, daffodils and tulips pierced the earth and are now ready to burst into bloom, and, if I don’t survey the gardens every day, I fear I’ll miss them. Along the trail, sweet wildflowers have been decorating our walks for the past week. Well, perhaps skunk cabbage is less sweet and flowery than a sure and comforting sign that spring is here for certain. Skunk cabbage is one of the few plants that exhibit thermogenesis, or the ability to heat up the earth enough to melt the snow and ice that may be present, and emerge early enough to attract pollinating insects before they become prey to other creatures. It sends up a purple spathe rather than flowers, and, within the spathe, a spadix emits a decidedly unlovely odor that attracts the insects that will pollinate it. I understand this, but thermogenesis in a plant, however it’s explained, rests upon deeper mystery, to me. The Marsh Marigold is an ancient native plant, having survived glaciations, enduring after the last retreat of the ice, apparently well-suited to a landscape of glacial meltwaters. Why it managed to survive is a mystery, but its cheerful gold shines up from the puddle-filled ditches every April. And the Pink Beauty and Blood Root have ants as helpmeets to spread their seeds, a process called myrmecochory. Their seeds have a fleshy organ called an elaiosome that offers a “come hither” scent to the ants, who carry the seeds back to their nests. I wonder if these are considered a kind of party treat heralding the ants’ spring? Anyway, they eat the elaiosomes, and put the seeds in their nest debris, rich in nutrients, where they are protected until they germinate. And although I can understand the science that explains these plants, their existence and their sacred interdependence with ants remains a cherished mystery. The winter choir of sifting snows and blustery winds has changed to a chorus of birdsong and amphibian arias; this past week, the red-winged blackbirds were the day-sky stars, but at night, our opened windows allowed the Spring Peepers, Leopard Frogs, and toads to serenade us with their river songs. We haven’t heard the Bullfrogs yet; I hope their solos come along soon. All these mysteries occurring under my nose, all this energy being expended all around me…it makes my daily round look rather unproductive and flat by comparison. My students and I planted potatoes this past week, and others worked with their teachers to prepare a butterfly garden. I’m not sure we’ll get out in the garden today, as it’s very windy and down about 30 degrees from last week’s surprising warmth, but we may plant some of the lettuces, peas, and other cold-weather vegetables we’ve started, and divide out tomato seedlings into their own 4” pots. The Master Gardeners have also scheduled lessons to teach the students more about Monarch Butterflies and their crises regarding habitat and migration, and plan to establish a Monarch Waystation at the school this spring.
When I’m not at school, I’ve been cleaning up the gardens and, of course, devouring mysteries, both those around me and those in book form. I like the ones I cannot solve the best. I’m re-reading the wonderful Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters/Edith Pargeter, and a friend just got me hooked on Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti mysteries, so I’m fully-booked, so to speak. But it’s the mysteries and rituals surrounding me that most deeply feed and fill my spirit. Here is one of my favorites:When they were little puppies, we noticed how Riley and Clancy loved to fall on the grass and roll joyfully, over and over, especially in spring. We could almost hear them giggling. So, we’ve always called this their “Roly-Poly Game,” and the expression quickly became a cue for them. Whenever they heard it, they would fall down and merrily roll while we laughed at them and cried out in mock disbelief. “Oh, no! Not roly-poly!” Over and over, like little children, they seemed delighted in entertaining us with their silliness. A beloved spring ritual.
This past winter, when we received their respective health diagnoses, I didn’t expect them to be here, now, and certainly not with the ability to be sung back to life, like the green leaves, and playing roly-poly. But here they are, in April, celebrating our annual ritual, diving down to meet the sweet green earth, giggling and making me laugh, joyfully devouring the mystery that brought us together years ago and that allows us to share another spring day. It is a mystery. And a gift.But this mystery has a name, written on my heart for 14 years. It is Love, and I devour it as hungrily as any communicant, and as full of gratitude.