© R. L. Whitney. Originally published May 8, 1990
Everywhere we turn these days the evidence that something momentous stirs confronts us, and the pace of change leaves us wondering. Our tiny corner of the great world renews itself before our eyes and yet we never quite succeed in catching nature in the act.
We went to bed one night a while back, looking at a world still inclined to browns and grays. Sure, the lilac buds were big enough to see from the dining room, but the change did not amount to a revolution - a swelling, not a bursting.
The next morning, the lilacs were apparently unchanged. When I walked out on my way to the barn, though, the big poplar trees by the front of the house were entirely hung with their caterpillar-like flower clusters.
How had all those flowers got there? In a good deal less than ten hours those trees had decided that the time had come to bloom, and had manufactured out of nothing the whole apparatus. Who says trees are very slow of study?
Now the lilacs have also gotten down to business. As near as I can tell their buds are the size of a mouse's ear and it is therefore time to plant the peas.
Even the clouds change their shapes as this season advances. Winter's clouds are dark enough, and we've had out share of dark days this spring no doubt, but the clouds that laze about overhead these days, when they aren't ganging up on each other and on us, are chubbier, more relaxed looking, than their January cousins.
Except for the hardy types who seem to go around in shirtsleeves in weather that still has me looking in the bottom drawer for the long underwear, the temperature may not be exactly hot, but those clouds up there look like clouds that know what warm weather is, and swell with incipient nativity.
Have you ever thought about clouds and how they inform our whole view of not just the sky but of our very existence?
We talk about a cloud on the horizon when we mean that something in the future is worrying us, and storm clouds can be everything from the build-up to a world war to the domestic consequences of overlooking an anniversary. In the latter case, the storm clouds may no longer be on the horizon, they are more likely to be overhead and we speak of ourselves, ruefully no doubt, as being under a cloud.
Clouds can have silver linings, though, and some of us may travel around with our heads in the clouds (none of present company, I'm sure). And those who have their heads in the clouds may come up with cloud palaces built in cloud-cuckoo land.
However it is, the clouds these days seem just as pregnant with new life as the earth itself.
A few days after the poplars surprised us with their impetuous fertility I took my courage in both hands (it being a damply dark day with no hint of wind) and burned off part of the field around the garden perimeter.
Owing to the slope of the surrounding land it is almost impossible to mow the edge of our garden patch. Over the past several years I have plotted various stratagems to combat the encroaching wild, but every year the wild sneaks in on the tame and menaces the polite little lettuces, etc., marching along in their well-organized rows.
With a pocket full of matches and an old broom I set out to get rid at least of the thatch which had built up. "Playing with fire" is widely regarded as a foolish exercise and I must say I was glad the air was no drier and no more active as the flames, in the Psalmist's words, "licked up the stubble."
A few hours later there was nothing to be seen but the black residue of a fiery consummation. By then, the wind was picking up, and a bit of a breeze suddenly showed fiery teeth that ran snapping through an old mouse nest and some thick thatch and obviously had an appetite for bigger things.
But the breeze dropped, and before it gathered its breath again the broom had swept the fire from its love affair with the field at large.
Water followed fire - water in the form of a soft rain that night, and the blackened desolation almost overnight had softened into new green.
Earth, air, fire, water - the four great building blocks. All are bound, this time of year, into a burgeoning of new life.
Words & Images
We moved to our farm in Sussex, New Brunswick from Toronto in 1977, only moving away in 2014.