A couple weeks ago the spring peepers launched headlong into their moony chorus and I don’t want them ever to stop. A few years ago I found a copy of The Gardener’s Bed-Book: Short and Long Pieces to Be Read in Bed by Those Who Love Husbandry and the Green Growing Things of the Earth at an estate sale, or maybe it was at a fantastically Hogwartian junk shop near our old farm. Either way: I find it a (largely) addictive and delightful little book, even if author Richardson Wright does refer to the “infernal squallings” of the peepers. Me, I say their song is about the prettiest and most heartening thing I know. There I am, plodding along in my slippers, shoulders hunched in cold self-preservation over another cup of coffee, cracking the front door to check the weather and wondering if I can summon the wherewithal to suit up self and child for a bracing evening walk – and there they are! When I hear them I know for sure that we are on the other side of winter’s worst. (Did you know though that the cold-blooded peepers can tolerate sub-zero temperatures without dying? Whoa! It’s a pretty complex process; more here.) And they do most of their eating and, umm, merrymaking after dark and throughout the night – which is to say: they sing us to sleep.
So it’s moony peepers and moony me. Last week the forsythia woke up and this week it’s just exploding, fountains and fireworks of it everywhere we go. I don’t know what made me think we’d moved too far north for magnolias, because we haven’t – they’re everywhere too and instead of making me feel homesick they are just making me feel at home. Inside the high tunnels where we’ve been gleaning scraggly kale and rosemary, the greens are bolting and the herbs are flowering and the heady smell of it all makes me grin so wide I can hardly speak. And I’m not sure what’s redder: the maple buds against a sky that is one hour thick with thunderclouds and the next a blinding blue, or the robin’s breast in the pear trees behind our house, or the barn in the setting sun??
And the skunk cabbage! It’s huge now, up to my knees nearly and bright bright green, and as I walked in the marsh behind our house yesterday and the day before I saw that wherever the skunk cabbage is growing, nettles are too. Nettles! I will wait just a little longer, and then I will put on some gloves and get to work. I want lots of tea, and I want the buttery nettle soup a friend made for me in France 10 years ago this summer, and I want Nicole’s nettle tart. The marsh where they grow, half frozen just a few weeks ago, is carpeted in thousands upon thousands of tiny cotyledons. Is it too much to wonder if some of them might be watercress? This marsh habitat is so new to me. I don’t know its calendar yet at all.
Oh, friends. It has been a very long winter. This is how I am finding home.
“The Peace of Wild Things”
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry