Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Garden of Earthly Delights

    Yesterday, I decided to take my daily walk before breakfast, since rain was likely at my usual walking time after midday prayer. And you know, it was just walking from delight to delight, and since I seem to write in here mostly about how hard it all is, and how much I struggle with myself, and how disappointed I get with my mere weak humanness, I thought I'd just change it up a little some reminders of why I changed my name to "Happiness" when I retired into the hermitage. And, you know, it's Spring, which is the Easter of the whole planet (OK, I know, the northern temperate zone). It's Spring, and new life is bursting out of the earthen grave of winter dormancy, and we sing our Easter liturgies of resurrection and rebirth, it's all just really exhilarating. 

    The lawn hasn't been mowed yet. Well, I call it a "lawn," though it's really something between a meadow and a "sand barren" (that's a real ecosystem type, the sand barren). I wish I could leave it unmowed, but ugh, ticks, chiggers, snakes and field mice, and there's really not a big enough clearing to leave any barren if I mow around the house. And anyway, my landlord would eventually show up and go into a temper and mow it himself. He doesn't believe in "barrens." But really, it's full of flowers: blue violets and field pansies, bittercress and rock cress, pussy-toes (yes, that name makes me giggle, too), and the small-flowered buttercups, tiny forget-me-nots, chickweed and speedwell, dead-nettle and ground-ivy, and dandelions. Why is there so much hatred for the dandelion? How can you not love that cheery yellow disk so early in the season, and who didn't have fun blowing out the puff-ball of seeds as a child in summer, and have you ever eaten the superfood dandelion greens? (please don't, unless you're sure they haven't been sprayed, because people just love to try to kill "weeds" with poison). Late daffodils are still blooming, and one early tulip so far, and it looks like I'll get some irises. Azaleas and viburnums are about to pop. There are whole carpets of spring beauty in the park, which I envy (is my little patch of woods too dry?), and I found a cluster of hot pink honesty on my way home from yesterday morning's walk. 

    Trees are blooming and leafing out, shedding pollen all over the place, which used to be an "anti-delight" until some brilliant researchers, on whom I invoke all God's blessings, invented Flonase and Opcon-A. The hickories and walnuts, and also the devil's walkingsticks, push out flower-like coronas of leaves at the tips of their branches. The black oak in my front yard has little intensely red leaves that, in summer, will be big and dark matte green. The sassafras and the sweet-gum have blossoms on their branch-tips, and the beeches have pom-poms under the tender new leaves. Some of the oaks, birches, maples have long, swaying catkins, some of the maples already have clusters of bright red seed samaras that are as pretty as flowers in their own right. Dogwoods are blooming, and redbuds, and serviceberries. So are the invasive callery pears, whose blossoms, it turns out, don't even make good cut flowers -- not because they don't last in a vase, but because they smell, very strongly, of a combination of rotting fish and the way your pee smells when you've been eating asparagus. 

    The winter waterbirds have mostly gone, and ospreys are back, tussling daily with the year-round resident bald eagles over river rights. There are still winter songbirds that haven't migrated yet: flocks of white-throated sparrows, which come in dull and bright plumages, but randomly -- not, like most birds, dull, discreet females and hot, flashy males, but just a full androgynous spectrum from crisp and sharp to some that look like they must be halfway through a very shabby molt. The adorable little red-breasted nuthatch is still visiting my feeders, bulking up its energy stores for its flight north. But Spring migrants are already starting to come in, too. I really need to mix up some hummingbird nectar already! There are Louisiana waterthrushes singing in my woods, and a pair of palm warblers were doing their little tail-bobbing dance outside my window yesterday. The tiny ruby-crowned kinglet (bigger than a hummingbird, yes, but even smaller than a chickadee), a year-round resident, has started singing its big, loud, bubbling dancing song.

    Bluebirds (of happiness) are nesting in the box I put up for them. There's a bald eagle pair nesting in the park, just downriver (walking distance). I'm watching to see whether the raccoons or the barred owls will win the prime nesting cavity they're fighting over, a stone's throw from my back porch. There's a new muskrat den across the river from me, opposite a larger beaver lodge along the curve of the point where the river divides. Brown-headed cowbirds have started showing up at my feeders, so-called parasitic nesters, already sniffing around for smaller birds' nests to lay their eggs in. The turtles are laying eggs, I've started to find them dug up by raccoons and opossums. The frogs are croaking, crickets are singing, bees are buzzing, and butterflies are fluttering by. 


    Winter can get so long, so dark, so slow, so shut-in. And the past year has seemed, for a whole lot of people, like a continuous winter. The pandemic is not over yet. The vaccines are starting to roll out, unevenly, but nowhere near fast enough for us to be able to let our guard down yet. Nowhere near fast enough, in a lot of parts of the world, to shut down or slow down the virus's mutations into new variants, that might even be able to defeat these first vaccines. But if it's not full summer yet, it is Spring.... Spring is a lean season, actually, you know? I mean, essentially, naturally, that is if you didn't have canned and dried and frozen food storage. Flowers may eventually become fruit, but pollen in itself is not particularly nourishing to human beings. But does that negate the nourishment of spirit that comes with this season of hope, of new life, warmth and beauty? 

    Every tree putting on leaves, every wildflower drawing in bees, every migrating bird and butterfly, every turtle digging a hole for its eggs, is shaking off winter and hollering out "HALLELUJAH!" Every one of us that gets that vaccine is a grain of pollen on the wind, everyone
giving the vaccines is a ray of sunlight warming us all up bit by bit. Keep the faith, my friends. Get the vaccine as soon as you're able. If you're able, donate something to help get the vaccine out to poorer countries.

    And if you can, get outside. Breathe in the soft Spring air (use your COVID mask to block out pollen!). Stop and look closely at the Spring flowers, many of which are tiny. Close your eyes and listen to the birds singing. Feel the sun on your face. Smile, hope, give thanks for the Easter of the world. 

    Alleluia, Amen.

Bald eagle catching its breath after a good game of tag with some ospreys. You know it was having a ball, expending way more energy chasing the osprey, with two more ospreys coming on to chase behind, than the little fish it was trying to steal was worth in calories.

Ground-ivy with bumblebee


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