Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Making the Rounds in March

     You always sense it with your nose and your ears more than with your eyes; the air is full of it, it flows out of the soft earth, gurgles along in brooks, roars in veritable streams, and whistles merrily in blackbird-song. What does it matter if the grass in the meadow is still blond and brown as a hare! The truth is if you take a closer look around you will find things under last year’s stubble, under the dried leaves—a light green something shooting upwards. Is it the creeping strawberry or the dark green of the celandine, God only knows which, but it is fertile and eager, spreading greenly, if only you look for them like lice up against the base of these brown hairs of last year.

     But what of that; this isn’t about the embarrassment of weeds, let them grow as they can if it is their time, for we have more a more serious nomination for spring. You might call them branches or broom handles. We, however, know that they will become lilacs, black elders, barberries and viburnums, gooseberries, hawthorns, dogwoods, honeysuckles and privet; for now has come the time when spring asks what you have planted last autumn. I planted all this last autumn, sir, and besides that willows and cotoneasters, mock-oranges, deutzias, spireas, maple and broom, sumac and rowan, oleaster, bird cherry and flowering cherries; I should really have a white coat like a doctor in the hospital, walking around from bed to bed and diagnosing with his eyes and his hands as to how his charges are doing. Thank God, this one’s not so bad; the patient is still sleeping, but the pith is green and full of sap; true, this little limb is bad, but one little operation, my little bush, and we’ll regain ourselves and start sprouting like mad. And what is wrong with you I don’t know; we may have transplanted you without some of your finer roots, you look more dead than alive; we have no magic, but it is still possible to hope that “nature will cure,” as the doctors say; it is still possible to bend over the patient and carefully score the skin here with my nails—well, I don’t know. And here, the rabbits did this to us, eating the outer layers of the colutea during the winter right down to the quick; God only knows how we’ll get out of this one, and it seems nothing remains but to shrug our shoulders and chalk the whole thing up to the capriciousness of nature.

     Those were the invalids, but God be praised for the others! They live already, I tell you, they’re already at work, you have only to look at the buds. Yes, have a look at the blossoms; some look like little knots and some jut out of the end of the branch like a thumb or the hard end of a spear; but most are obscured by a little insect seated on the twig, wings folded; it sits facing down, hunched over and immobile, and drinks until it is ready to burst. This one over here on the viburnum looks like a fuzzy gray fly with a thin behind, this one of the barberry looks like a dark and engorged tick, this one on the dogwood is just a flat little thing; you can’t even see it as it clings to the branch; but they are there as they eagerly and breathlessly drink. Just another little while now, and the the sated little fly will spread its folded wings, the immobile aphid will carefully unfurl its own, and more wings, still wrinkly and folded, will spread themselves and face then sun to rise up from their bough from spring until autumn. We people call these things leaves, but they are nothing more than the buds themselves growing wings.

     The little wings of the leaves, the flying pollen and the buzzing of all sorts of insects; I tell you, all this arises from one of the strongest impulses of life, and spring truly starts with the fluttering of all the little wings on the earth.



[Wikipedia served as my specialist dictionary, helping me convert Czech common names to Linnean binomial nomenclature and then back to English common names. I can't imagine having been able to do this without it.]

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