It’s been a cold and gloomy end to this winter, but the warm, vibrant colors of spring are coming, and with it a fresh start on life.
I write this on a cold and gloomy morning. Branches are scraping together in the breeze and a thin skin of ice gleams here and there. A robin stares at me, as if to ask whether she flew home too soon.
But my heart is light, because this, too, is part of the ritual. Without brown gloom, tomorrow’s lush green wouldn’t feel as sweet. It’s one more reason I cherish northern Illinois: Winters are truly winters and Spring offers real contrast. Sure, she teases with false starts, but once she arrives, there’s no missing her entrance.
In the woods, Spring sends ahead magical clues, like messages delivered on Mercury’s wings. They come in the form of delicious wild chives and other tiny green shoots that push upward against heavy dead things a hundred times their weight. Spring always starts close to the ground and climbs quietly upward. During that time, the ephemerals – shooting stars, trilliums, trout lilies and the like – race to live out their lifecycles before she reaches treetops and unfurls the leaves that condemn them to shade. Their lives are short, but beautiful.
In my garden, small green bundles of sedum have emerged, neatly nestled in last year’s bony stalks. Fat rhododendron buds have survived both the winter and the deer who view them as snacks. Last year’s papery hydrangea blossoms still jiggle in the breeze. How do they remain not only intact on delicate stems, but still beautiful, after 10 months that include snow, wind and ice? Talk about wondrous engineering.
A million or so chipmunks have awakened from under the deck and are scampering about, taunting our indoor dogs and displacing the wintertime fellowship of squirrels, who have scattered back out to the woods to do their busy springtime work.
No sign of the hostas yet, but tiny shoots of lily of the valley have emerged. On a day like this one, it’s hard to believe they’ll be in full bloom a month from now. Last year, they were saturating the air with perfume when my beloved sister Linda died, on April 30. We didn’t know it then, but her second grandchild would be born this spring on March 18, less than a year later – her son Jeff’s (Jessica) first child, named Cora Linda Jones. This, too, is so typical of life. Just as we can’t prevent the pain it throws at us, neither can we predict the unexpected joys that “come in the morning.”
I was a March baby, too, many springtimes ago, and have always thought it a grand time for a birthday. How fitting to emerge when the earth is still a muddy mess, but ripe with so much promise. Crocuses, daffodils, bleeding hearts, bluebells, fiddleheads, forsythia, quince, fruit tree blossoms, lilacs … A grand show soon followed by Summer’s peonies, roses and lazy hours in a hammock beneath oak leaves dappled with sunlight and birdsong. Is there a friendlier time of year to be welcomed into the world like a little green sapling?
Of course, any month is a great time to be born. I have a harder time accepting that people die in the throes of springtime, as my sister did. I was re-reading a poem that her children printed for us shortly after her death. By chance, it describes their mother with uncanny accuracy, but was written by an Iroquois poet and artist who also died at age 65, also of cancer, also during the heart of springtime.
This poem conjures images not only of my sister, but of many other amazing women – and men – that you and I have met on our life journeys so far. I share it in celebration of all those who dig deeper, rock boats and go out on a limb to make good things happen. I pray that many more of them emerge, like courageous green shoots beneath an oppressive mat of dead leaves, daring to tackle the urgent problems that threaten our communities.
Healing Pathways Update
Which reminds me. Some of you have asked about the cancer wellness center Linda established. I’m happy to report that Healing Pathways-Cancer Resource Center is celebrating its first anniversary, and has already provided more than 200 local people, from all walks of life, with free supportive services, such as nutrition, stress management and gentle exercise classes. Many clients describe it as a “godsend” and Rockford’s three hospitals have endorsed it. The professionals who volunteer their time to make it work are true heroes, starting with Carolyn Greenlaw and Karen Moore, who, having gotten it up and running, are now laser-focused on establishing funds to sustain this much-needed addition to our community.
If you know someone who could benefit from these services, or if you have an interest in supporting the center financially or by volunteering, please call the Healing Pathways business office located inside the University of Illinois College of Medicine, (815) 395-5649, or learn more at www.healingpathwayscrc.org. Cancer touches all of us, in one way or another, and it’s a journey that need not be traveled alone.
Spring is always a good time to take stock of our lives and listen to the quiet lessons nature shares with us from the garden. Are we living it, as the ephemerals do, with full joy? Whether we’re young, old or in between, the world is renewed every year, and we’re each invited to the party. Nature never stops refreshing us with its messages of hope if we have ears to listen. Enjoy! ❚
For Love of the World
For the love of a tree, she went out on a limb.
For the love of the sea, she rocked the boat.
For the love of the earth, she dug deeper.
For the love of community, she mended fences.
For the love of the stars, she let her light shine.
For the love of spirit, she nurtured her soul.
For the love of a good time, she sowed seeds of happiness.
For the love of the Goddess, she drew down the moon.
For the love of nature, she made compost.
For the love of a good meal, she gave thanks.
For the love of family, she reconciled differences.
For the love of creativity, she entertained new possibilities.
For the love of her enemies, she suspended judgment.
For the love of herself, she acknowledged her worth.
And the world was richer for her.
–Charlotte Tall Mountain, 1941-2006