Monday, March 09, 2009

The Signs of Spring

     There are many signs in heaven and on earth which accompany the onset of spring; the blackbirds, for instance—as soon as the blackbirds begin to shout and whistle away, you can bet your life that it is March and that it is all starting. Or the Lenten rose, let’s say: suddenly its golden or purple bud appears out of nowhere: but the Hamamelis is already blooming with its little yellow stars and the snowdrop’s little chalice rings in the terrible western wind. At that time the clouds have passed across the sky with striking speed, the earth opens up and the Iris reticulata opens its blue gothic flower.1 Those are the basic signs of spring.

     There are other, equally reliable indicators of spring, as when the housewives begin to wash the windows. It happens as it does with the Lenten rose, most likely some impulse from the cosmos; each hangs a blue skirt and red apron out the window, waving rags and singing; the patrolman on the street pretends not to see it (Kate’s not tied to anything, you see), but it is well-known that normal girls don’t fall out of windows these days.

     The most important sign of spring is of course the bricklayers. Someone’s grandfather, pipe in hand, appears at every construction site that has slept the winter away, fallow and abandoned—-most likely he himself had hibernated there—-but in March he comes to and walks around the piles of bricks, puffing away at his pipe, which is a sign that spring has come. At that a group of men appear with masonry tools and other noisy implements, whereupon they begin to pound boards and clap bricks together, which gives the perfect aural impression of spring, together with the blackbirds’ song.

     This is at a part of the world’s expanse known as a “site,” which is probably from the Aramaic for “cursed place” or something else damned and abandoned, full of disorder and filth. But even the construction site awaits its spring day when a band of men voyage to it and hammer and dig up that degraded surface. Look at the earth open up: under the cultured layer of human ventures, filth, and topsoil there appears the dead (and therefore virgin) clay, sediment, or a deposit of sand which breathes out cold and raw moisture. They set to with great exertion and lashing of whips and a procession of carts bearing away the results of their excavation, and in a week the basement and framing of a new building begin to spring forth from the earth.

     The clangorous, chirping bricklayers’ spring, smelling of lime and fresh walls, mortar and sawdust; there is nothing less poetic than the spring which unfolds raw furrows in the fields: it is happier and manlier than that. I mean nothing against the blackbirds, larks, woodpeckers and titmice, but the music of spades, of work, which rolls out in the first early spring days from the streets, yards, and construction sites with its tools and saws, boards, bricks and coats of paint; it is just as exhilarating as birdsong. The brooks bubble and the the soil gives up its first flower; the blackbird pipes its lovely song and one builder shouts to the other: “Franta, pass me a brick!”



1 Hammaelis —- a bush cultivated in parks with yellow ornamental flowers. Iris reticulata -- a dark blue iris originally from the Caucasus

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