requiem for the spring that will not be
i cannot let this heartbreak pass without taking time to sing a song of sorrow.
the petaled promise of spring, everywhere, it seems, is bent, is broken, downed by something silent that came under cloak of night, but also in the klieg light glare of high morning, when the sun, at full slant, could not make its way through molecules of cold.
i have walked for miles, i have taken toll. i know now the litany of the dead, the blooms that will not be. star magnolia, petals browned like egg whites under too much butter, too much flame. only this is brown from freezing. daffodils, whole hosts, bowed in cold defeat, heads down, limp in dirt that might as well be burial mounds. bergenia, a woodland beauty sometimes known as pigsqueak, has lost its squeal. exhibit a, up above; the barnyard must be weeping.
i know i am.
barely a week ago, when winds were filling lungs, getting ready to let loose, when the air was balmy 70, we heard the rather mild-mannered news, the short-burst alarm: temperatures might dip. take precaution.
precaution, we presumed, was tossing blankets helter skelter overnight. and lifting in the morning. the danger past, the sun back up, all caution scattered with the noonday wind.
but then, the cold, it stayed. the daffodils, days later, still haven’t raised their heads from deepest dying bow. the magnolia never had a chance. one day, its velvet fingers, gloved in alabaster. but then, the next, all froze, and kept on freezing. there will be no bloom this year. there will only be brown buds falling to the ground, botanic bullets shot through with frozen death.
promise lost before it even had a chance.
which sounds, to the children’s cancer nurse in me, too much like life sometimes. this narrative we know, not only from the garden.
all around, i walk through springtime frozen on the stem; i ask myself just what it means. what lesson is this teaching?
i called a man who knows many things about the garden. he said it’s death on case-by-case basis. depends, he said, on micro-climate. vigor of the plant before the cold winds came. says he’s never seen anything like it, not this much cold, this long, preceded by solar-heated days that coaxed the blooms, coaxed spring, right from the earth, from winter.
way he sees it, he says, it’s just a blip for planet earth. a mere blink of the eye for the globe that’s spun for zillions of millions of revolutions.
buck up, he pretty much says. these growing things grow here because, through the millennia, they’ve done the darwin thing. they’ve got little tricks up their long green sleeves. but there will be no blooms. toast, he boomed, time after time, no matter what i mentioned, full of hope, some growing thing, perhaps, merely suspended in freeze-frame animation.
toast, he cried. toast, toast. i could hear him shake his head; pity the poor lady with skull so thick she’s dense.
at best, the wise man offered, the growing things dig deep inside their little souls, extract a blast of carbohydrate, give it everything they’ve got to unfurl their leaves, take a chance at air and light and a good stiff drink of rain.
it’ll be an iffy proposition from here on out, this season. too little rain, too many pests–oh no, here comes his favorite word–“toast!” he crowed again.
scooching out to the edge of this most precarious limb, i asked the hard-baked gardener if he saw any metaphysics in all this burned botanic bread. “this is nature,” he said, shooing me away to take another call.
well, half the reason i come to class is i’m convinced there is much to learn in the not-so-tidy rows of my struggling garden.
as i tiptoed through the swath where my daffodils once tossed their pretty heads, scissors at the ready, at last surrendered to the notion that there would be no resurrection, i mused long and hard on all this would-not-be.
walking miles, shuffling past the dead and fallen, i rumbled thoughts through head. why death? why so much frozen death?
the singular thing that struck me was how this scourge rolled in without a sound, without a whimper even. this was not destruction with a drum roll, no whipping winds and thunder claps, nor streaks of light that tore the sky in jagged halves.
this was, like so much of life’s unwanted news, completely unannounced.
one minute you’re talking to your papa on the phone; the next you’ve got an operator on the line, interrupting some other silly call, telling you to clear the line, someone must get through, someone needs to tell you it’s very, very bad, you need to get there fast.
one minute you think your firstborn son is out riding his bike on a golden autumn day filled with light and promise; the next, the doctor is leaning against the hard cold wall, telling you it’s a fractured vertebrae in his neck and the spinal cord itself looks to be in trouble.
you think of all the friends you’ve loved, whose news came in fractured syllables: a dark spot on a lung, a blob they couldn’t see through, ’bout the size of a cotton ball, on an unsuspecting breast.
they never knew it was coming. you never knew it was coming. it was suddenly just here. it was the sub-freezing dawn in the middle of your spring.
you too, drooped your head into the dirt. you too forgot to breathe. case-by-case basis, the plant man said. some will make it. others won’t.
you, not willing to go with door no. 2, you dig down deep inside your carbohydrate stores. you give it everything you’ve got.
some will make it.
you swallow deep your sorrow, and plow on into spring. you pray to God warm winds are on their way.
just there, beyond the window, in the hoary morning’s frost, you set your gaze on daffodils, a humbled host, stilled, not breathing at half mast.
you, though, you take a breath. you brace against the chill. you carry on, intrepid, into spring. no one says it doesn’t sting. no one…
anyone care to offer up a line, or stanza, in this song of frozen springtime sorrow? or some sign of resurrection in the field?