Friday, May 13, 2022

A Hard-Won Spring


We have no flooding or forest fires in Saskatchewan, so perhaps I shouldn't be whining so much.  But this has been one of the most unpleasant springs ever.  Our days have been very grey and cold:  tulips are behind their normal budding about a week after Easter.  My crabapple tree, which always blooms on May long weekend, has no more than tiny little leaves on it.  And even the sunny days, which I drank up eagerly, getting out into the garden to start the spring cleanup, have often been windy.  Windy days make my vertigo act up, probably because they come with changes to barometric pressure.  But they also make me edgy. It's as if the wind threatens to sweep away parts of who I am.  I can't look out a window without seeing chaos moving through the landscape or walk without feeling chaos on my skin. A single cloudy or windy day doesn't bother me, especially if it comes with rain.  But a whole streak of rainy or windy days in a row--which we've often had this spring (calling it "spring" gives it too much credit) leaves me feeling like a deflated balloon.  

On Wednesday about ten days ago, I woke up to such a morning after several similar mornings, and said "I can't do this."  I seem to have an inner voice that only has two options when faced with a challenge:  either "I can do this.  No problem." Or a whining "I can't do this." It doesn't even deliver an explanation, though there are obvious candidates, with a few extras during Covid.  Loneliness.  Dismay at how greedy our "leaders" have been to lift mask and passport mandates in order to get the economy moving again and to please impatient voters. (That certainly hadn't worked here in Saskatchewan; we have the lowest GDP in the country and one of the higher death rates.) The after-effects of insomnia.  Feeling that my writing is pure shit. Feeling that my writing makes no different in a world where a bully just decides to invade a neighbouring country.  I'm supposed to be standing up for humanity, for beauty, but what good do humanity and beauty do in a world where a single person can say "I want...." and mobilize thousands of others to meet his desire and in the process kill and be killed?   All those blasted apartment buildings we're shown on TV are people's homes and lives, and I can't stop thinking about that and about the needless deaths and trauma.  These are glass half empty days in the life of someone who has fought hard to see her glass as half full.

How can the weather do this, tipping me over into helplessness?  It's just weather.  Unless it's thirty below and my furnace has to run full time just to keep the house warm, or unless it's thirty-five above (and we don't have air conditioning), weather has little effect on my comfort. What is weather all about if it isn't about comfort or the lack of it--unless you're a farmer and need rain or unless you're a farmer and need the rain to stop? 

I have this sense that my moods are a heavy cloak.  I don't mind holding it up for a while as I try to adjust my relationship with a magical and maddening universe so I can find enough hope to be a productive person. But at some point the arm holding my cloak off the floor gets stiff and then very tired.  You wouldn't want to sully such an essential cloak; where would we be--what would we be without our moods?  I count on the beauty of the natural world to hold my cloak for a while on those days when politicians don't care about human lives or tyrants have a good day with their bombs.  Or those days when I have slept badly or can't find the words for my thoughts.  Or the days when the people I love are struggling.

We had an unexpected nice day last weekend, so I got out into the garden to begin the spring cleaning.  I rake my lawn fairly carefully in the fall so it can go on photosynthesizing even in the cool weather.  But I rake most of those leaves onto perennial beds where they can decompose over winter and in the spring serve as cover for insects that the robins come looking for.  So my first spring job is to lift the leaves off the things that bloom early:  my two bleeding heart and the iris in the front yard.  This is such a pedestrian thing to do.  Nothing is particularly beautiful besides the air on your skin or the sounds of birds.  But lifting decaying leaves off the bleeding heart and finding little white sprouts below--the layer of leaves prevented photosynthesis--was inexplicably joyful.  I had uncovered a miracle. The week after that Sunday was nicer than expected--continuous rain had been forecast--so I tried to get out most days and work at turning over my vegetable garden.  As I told the young man who shovels our snow and who offered to borrow a rototiller so he could rototill my garden, the one thing standing in the way of seeing myself as an old woman is the fact that I can still turn over my vegetable garden.  At the end of an hour of digging, I'd roam the yard to see what was putting out buds--what, in effects, had made it through the winter.  The hydrangeas, much to my delight had.  The mahogany nine bark had, but I suspect the silver dogwood I'd planted as a companion hasn't.

All this spoke to the voice that said "I can't do this" with reassurance that in fact I could.  That reassurance came in two ways.  First, I know when I rake leaves over my perennial beds in the fall or lift them off in the spring, that I'm nature's handmaiden; nature's midwife. That's a small role that gives me joy.  I'm also reminded of the fact that when the universe goes pear-shaped, but best thing is to look close to home--to look closely--to appreciate what it's just as easy to miss otherwise.  My lemony lace elderberry turns bright and vivid green when spring really gets under way, but its buds are a wine red. My cats--another part of nature--are remarkably intuitive. My friends and family are the best.

Here's the thing that makes me curious, though.  When we're in blue moods, we're inclined to pay attention to detail; happy people tend to see the big picture, something that makes them even happier.  But during a rainy spring maybe paying attention to detail is all you have.  Best to be mindful about it, to see its small miracle and to understand the place of the small in a universe that is constantly expanding.


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