Spring arrives in slow waves and we watch them crest and crash on the shore, then recede to become part of the wide ocean. Yellow daffodils and forsythia and creamy shad have all gone by, the first to withering stems, the others to greenery. Some trees flower only to be consumed by a day of searing heat, or have their fragile blossoms tossed to the wind by a raging storm. A single branch on my miniature crabapple is brown, deadened it appears, and I wonder if it somehow caught a single blast of salt that looks to have targeted it.
The maple across Corn Neck Road from Mitchell Farm, and others like it scattered about the island, budded red and will flame yellow in the fall, but now it is going into green disguise and in a few weeks will meld into the vegetation around it.
Now, I watch the growth along the seaward side of the Neck Road, out by the beach pavilion, where the land is narrower and easier to watch. The roses are coming into bloom amidst older growth leaves, darker than those brightly new beside them. Beach plum is betraying its locations, blooming white, giving those mindful of such things a focal point to mark for fall picking.
Grass in the meadows is turning to seed, rippling in the wind, almost ready for a first mowing of fragrant hay, but so much else is plodding along, refusing to be hurried into summer.
I feel that way every year, not wanting the long-awaited spring to end and morph into summer. This year, it is worse, with this cloud of a pandemic still lingering at our edges. I think of all the storms that just miss us, moving across the water so easily they seem to flow around this little land mass that isn’t worth the expenditure of energy it would require to cross it.
There has to be some truth to that notion, not simply one of my own fanciful musings, as much as it might appear. We have all watched dark storm clouds to the north and the south, seen rain falling offshore.
Now, I look at the dunes, themselves high, shifting waves, and see the roses in their various stages of progress, woven with flowering plums but also by so much that looks to be dead. It is an annual exercise, stopping by the road, noticing the buttercups and tiny yellow ground cover flowers, confirming by the shape and texture of the rose leaves that the vibrant green will darken, the bright and shiny and new will blend in and become part of the family.
Then there is the bayberry, the first of the invaders that began to fill the unused meadows. I did not notice how late it was to leaf out until the shad become so numerous and so tall. Now, every year I wait to see more green, earlier, creeping out toward the face of Clay Head. There is bayberry in the sandy reach between the road and the dunes, with the also slow to green beach grass giving the area a half dead look.
The tops of the dunes, in places, look like the reverse of my poor crabapple branch, a splotch of bright new life amidst the lingering winter.
The water willow that fills the Clay Head Swamp and edges much of the big pond behind my house is still a mass of woody stems, always a surprise given that it lives in water, rooted in a boggy bottom that once yielded peat. It is among the last of the greenery to turn green and earn its name, after the shad and pussy willow tree and old apple are so lush with leaf they almost block my view. The scrub maples in my yard start dropping leaves almost as soon as they finish unfurling but it is the water willow that is first to burnish and fade, long before the autumnal equinox.
The days are long, now, first light pushing away the night so soon and lingering so long into twilight it feels too much, too abundant. The sunset in December is almost four hours earlier, and it drops like a hammer.
I think back to the roses by the beach, like so much else, measured by color. There are a few pink flowers but by far more white have opened, as if the hues required more energy to produce, more time to form in the bud.
Even this year traffic will increase, the shoulder will hold walkers and this easy ability to pull over wherever I wish will be gone. Someday I will realize everything is green, the bayberry, the beach grass, the insidious bittersweet that is working its way even into the roses and plums and berries, one predator threatening another.