Stages of Spring
Every year I try to take a photograph of the lilac at the corner of the dooryard, and every year I have varying degrees of failure. The wind is always blowing, the sun is never quite right, the blooms are never as lush as they appear to the naked eye.
They are, on the other hand, great examples of what we see and what expectation makes us believe we see.
The bush was old when I was little and I had no idea it was anything other than some green, woody thing in a northwest corner, almost touching on two sides the old picket fence. I do remember the year it finally produced two dark clusters and my mother off-handedly said “oh, those are lilacs.” It was a thrill and a disappointment, that we had lilacs, but a pale shadow of what I thought they should be.
Mrs. Calder, on the corner when Mansion Road turned - then - to the old fading mansion overlooking the ocean, had lilacs in her yard, the lady from whom we bought a Sunday Providence Journal for a quarter had lilacs by her door, everyone had lilacs covered with softly-purple flowers in the spring.
Slowly it improved and when I was grown it got more attention and flourished, then diminished, again, a whole section taken out by a hay rake, pushed back and then fatally wounded by someone looking for the Clay Head Trail or the house of someone on the road over to the north, who lumbered off in his old station wagon.
I dug up runners and planted them elsewhere and have lilacs down the lane and south of the house, and following directions carefully I cut away the dying limbs and cut the rest almost to the ground, twice. The poor thing is lopsided for having been almost overtaken by the miniature crab apple, which was in turn almost devoured by bittersweet.
A week ago I thought this quirky cold spring had caused the lilac on the corner to say “enough!” but today it has flowers, waving in the wind. I tried to take a photo of what was before me but saw on my little screen gray branches with purple flowers backed by coming-into-their-own apple blossoms, with a backdrop of the maple or pin oak my sister-in-law brought in a bucket from Michigan more than 40 years ago, one no one thought would grow, much less thrive. It will be full and lush soon but for now its sparse leaves are barely visible and it looms a ghost of winter.
Then I find the dandelion, the perfectly round yellow weed that has to be a second blooming, it is close to
the ground, as if it had flowered fast after being chopped and is now cowering from an anticipated advance of the
I go back to the lilac, thinking to bring a few blooms inside but I have no clippers and feel badly for the poor tree, it looks sad enough as is. I try, for a bit, to imagine where the fence was, there doesn’t seem to be adequate earth to hold a corner post. It is suggested perhaps the course of the road was shifted and when I say all I can: “Moved? Here?” at least the response is a good-natured “What was I thinking?”
The swallows seem to be elsewhere, I had been hoping one would be sitting on the gate wire, all demure and tiny. There are a few in the air but none in the framing of the horses’ run-in shed or around my entry door.
For years I have been leaving my front door open for air and a dog. A bird flies in every now and then, I had wrens nesting behind some souvenir china in a living room bookcase and never noticed until I heard rattling. Another year they had a bounty of straw from the last of the hay and built a nest I did not notice high atop wicker shelves.
This year has been cooler, the door has been closed most of the time and the wrens started building a nest in the entry. I am not sure what happened but I began hearing a ruckus a few times a day and seeing swallows zooming around the high rafters. They began to frighten my sweet dog who seemed to think her land had been invaded by flying monkeys.
They are beautiful birds, all of these swallows, but these are barns with their buff chests and glossy dark blue bodies but they have turned menacing, they are not the sweet birds on a wire to which I am accustomed. If I forget to close the door they come in, at least two at a time, and fly around my old house, low ceilinged living room, looking huge. On bright days they head for the light, any light, any window in any room but it is foggy, as it has been, one set of glass panes has any more allure than the next so they go in circles not quite able to understand my “go out the way you came in!”
Finally one sails out followed by a second who sails into the hall and possibly up the stairs to the unused upper part of the old house. I closed the door between the living room and the hall and hoped for the best.
There may be a multitude of nests up there by now but I haven’t heard any noises, which I would have by now.
They are not the only birds around, I need only look out the window to see a robin hopping around the yard, occasionally pulling up a storybook worm from the earth, or a redwing flitting about searching for the long long cat tails that edged the pond or the white egret that glides past catching the sun on his wings. It is more than 30 years, now, they have some every spring and the magic never dims. But I think their wings are too wide to fit through the series of doors they would have to navigate to fly around my living room.