Hope, Patience, and Spring in New England

For many the idea of spring with its hints of new life – crocus and tulip and hosta pushing through the cool, damp earth, drawn out by a more bold sun; fiddleheads coiled, their lush fans ready for debut; and the tree-buds tinging branches first red then a pale, blanched green before stretching and deepening into summer shade – embodies enduring hope that all things can be renewed.  And it is true: when it finally comes spring inevitably infuses even me, a lover of the crisp and clean and white of a snowy winter, with longing for the ease of summer, its abundance and the sumptuous fulfillment of spring’s promise.

But here is the key: when it finally comes.  New England winter is sometimes hard and more often tedious, droning on beyond the confines of its rightful place – December, January, and February, maybe a couple of weeks in March – well into what our imaginations concoct as spring.  In the country we are more likely to talk about Mud Season than spring, while in the city we mark the passing of winter by how slowly the grainy, gritty snow banks disappear.

But memory is short and by the end of March I am looking for the spring of hope and not that of New England.  It was the same this year, but worse.  As March became April, and then May, I kept watching for signs.  But a chill fog in deep winter had cold-bronzed the leaves of my Rhododendrons and blackened the leaves of the Hollies.  The deer had abandoned the abundance of the wood surrounding my gardens and eaten all they could reach of my PJMs, and taken the Yew hedge to its trunks.  The grass was brown and sparse, the only hint of green from the moss with which it does battle.  The trees, of course, were gray.

Making matters worse, spring this year was feeble in its attempts to wrestle its place from winter, managing only gray, raw and rainy days.  It seeped into my psyche, as gray always does, taking away my ambition to be outside and do what little could be done in the gardens.  There was no thought of getting on my bike; cold is fine, as is wet, but not the two together.

And then as May trudged on toward June – still spring by the meteorological calendar – I awakened again to the realization that in New England spring takes its time in coming, but it always comes.  It meters out its treasures slowly, forcing us to look for them, to anticipate, and then to really appreciate.  The leaves on the trees have, of course, unfurled, and before I had noticed, my fern beds were full, and the hosta beds too.  The bleeding hearts are blooming.  Last week, among the wilted, dried leaves, the Rhodos bloomed big – pink and burgundy, purple and white – and pushed out new leaves.  Even the PJMs have begun to recover from their winter’s trauma. 

It took two passes to cut back the grass, which had nearly gone to seed.  There is, indeed, new life.  When did it happen?

It happened when I was looking forward only, and not around me in the now.  You see, hope’s rush of anticipation is only satisfied when slowed by it’s dogged cousin, patience.  What spring in New England teaches is that our hope will be fulfilled, in time, but that to live in its anticipation is to miss its unfolding, in which is contained the real joy and wonder. 

Yesterday I rode my bike on a course I use to benchmark my progress.  As with everything else this spring I had been disappointed in my fitness on those days when I could ride, wondering if this is the year I measure my progress in how little I slow down.  I rode that course faster than I ever had before.  Turns out there’d been more fair days this spring than I’d realized, and, apparently, I’d made good use of them.  

I guess I am unfolding slowly too, this spring. And perhaps I am, finally, learning that great lesson of New England spring:  be patient in all things, for it is only in the space that patience allows that the magic of hope can happen. 

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