BY JUDITH WALCUTT
March 9, 2016
Suddenly it’s March again. Not quite Equinox, but it will be soon!
March 4th, National Pun Day, marched past us in a hurry. And even as I write this, the beauty and the miracle of the blossoms is upon us and will blow away in a big gust before you know it. Better take a moment and love that vision of loveliness while it’s here!
I walked up Honeymoon Bay Road as I always do, to visit my favorite trees, the cherry and the ornamental plums that will give up their wild beauty again, in the form of small, perfect jewels of tiny, tart, ruby-colored fruits to be captured in a jar after the summer sun has had its way with them. Somehow, seeing them like this, in their nascent flowering beauty, I feel even more moved by their exquisite confection, coating the licorice bark of the trees’ branches like pink snow made of powdered sugar.
I know, I know—that is such an ordinary simile for such extraordinary beauty—pink snow coupled with powdered sugar! The actual image is so mouth-wateringly luscious; there must be a better way to say it. But I can’t help myself! That is what it looks like—pink snow, powdered sugar, perhaps mixed with some softened butter, a dash of heavy cream, whipped at high speed, with a spoonful of raspberry jam added for color and flavor, then artfully applied with a palette knife to the lines of exquisitely sculpted dark chocolate limbs.
I do like that frosting image because when I see this palimpsest of pinks, whether walking up my road or driving into Langley, I see the layers of memories evoked, a million senses stirred by such colors and textures in daubs of blushing berries or almondy-pearlescent fondant like that dripped onto the little cupcakes my mother bought for us at the kind of bakery that no longer exists in the world, but does in my memory. Memory—stirred and stirred like whipped cream frosting, comes alive at the blossoming of cherry and plum trees and that’s why we gasp when we see them.
It is our natural coming back to life, after the winter of very long, often gray days, and more rain than we’ve known in recent history, with this achingly beautiful flowering of trees that breaks hearts open like a sugar Easter egg, the kind with the little scene inside.
There is so much to remember, so much to feel—our loved ones lost, past and passing, beloveds, friends, children, and parents– what choice have we, but to remember them in the beauty of the mountain that is March?
I have known of some whose losses are so profound that they cannot bear to look beauty in the eye, ever again. Like a princess put to sleep by the prick of an enchanted spindle, the wounded, the bereaved heart goes to sleep, and wants nothing of the cherry blossoms all around. I urge them to look again, look for the beauty and find a way to revel in it, if only to honor the lost ones, gone to the gone beyond.
My own mother was a bit like that, in the wake of some of her trials. The sudden bright spots of color in forsythia and azalea, the smell of hyacinth in greenhouses, the hopeful honk of daffodils popping out of the dark earth sometimes made her sad. She asked me once, one early spring day, “It is so beautiful––why does it make me cry?”
My answer, I think now, though heavily colored by the 19th Century Romantic poets I was obsessed with reading at the time, was correct—when beauty comes with sudden spring, we ache with the renewed knowledge of our own transience, the ephemeral qualities that permeate that passing instant of beauty. Yes, embodied by the rebirth of spring, a fresh return of color and a lightening sky, such times remind us of another year gone by as much and more than the winter darkness that comes before it, which is easy to sleep through.
Drawing us forward, toward, through our lives, we know without saying it, that this beginning is the harbinger of another ending, in a finite number of endings allotted us per lifetime. Every year in the rebirth of the earth, we are taking another step to our exit line. What do we leave behind us, when we, like a handful of pink petals, are blown free into a sudden, unexpected wind?
John Keats, the Romantic poet I loved the best of all, struggled with this paradox of impermanence. Then as now, when young ones are taken too soon from their lives, like Keats, dead at 25, we wrestle with the injustice. His epitaph read, “Here lies one whose name was writ in water,” meaning here lies one whose life’s imprint will evaporate into air in a day’s time. We see how accurate that forecast was!
We cannot know the long-term effects our lives, our losses, and our loves will have on what happens after we are gone. All we can know, as Keats proposed in the final lines of that most famous of his poems, Ode on a Grecian Urn, in which he praises the urn’s artifice––its captured leaves that will never fall, the spring that will never end, the lovers forever young whose longing will never be sated–– all that which is beautiful held, permanently, immortally, in the cold clay of the urn––but in the end, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know” and artifice, no matter how great, really doesn’t beat the real thing.
That is why it is so important to stop what you are doing at this very moment and go outside—look up, notice how much bigger and broader the horizon is over the water and, beyond the water, the mountains, putting the smallness of all things incidental in perspective; notice the gasping pinks, the honking yellows, the loud-mouthed fuchsia, the spectacular purples, and electric violets scattered all around; breathe in the fresh, slightly salty island air, and be grateful. Be here. Be grateful to be here. Go ahead—kiss the sky! Make a cake and slather it in pink frosting—celebrate the birthday of the Earth, and the place you have upon it. Invite your loved ones, past, present, and future to the feast.
Judith Walcutt is a writer in her 28th year on Whidbey Island. Her novel, “Memoirs of a Modern She-noodle,” will be published later this spring by NeoPoiesis Press. She will be appearing at Ott & Murphy Wine Tasting Room with her husband David Ossman and their Impromptu Cabaret Company, April 1 and April 2 in celebration of All Fool’s Day.
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Thank you dear, Judith. Kissing the sky and breathing it all in.