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Girl with a Watering Can by Pierre Auguste Renoir

There are small tomato, pepper and broccoli plants sitting in a box in front of my sliding glass door. In addition to several dozen marigolds, they are waiting for my mother to come by and take them (along with lots of good advice) to one of my nieces, who lives in New Jersey. I received them up from my sister last week and now am anxiously hovering over them, lest they die on my watch.

When my mom returns for a few days, we'll be digging up a part of the side yard to make a perennial garden. The thought of finding and owning foxglove, bleeding hearts, lupine, columbine and irises again makes me almost giddy! Back in the days when I had a larger plot of lawn, I dug (well, my husband dug) a good bit of it up into garden. But now that I have a smaller area, and not a lot of sun, I have to content myself with flowers, which is like saying I have to be happy with only dessert.

There's nothing like getting dirt under one's fingers during the spring. Edgar Guest, whose poems I've posted here and here, offers gardening as a tonic for what ails you. All the drama you could ever want, (take that, you aphids!) and more...

Plant a Garden
Edgar House

If your purse no longer bulges
and you've lost your golden treasure,
If at times you think you're lonely
and have hungry grown for pleasure, 
Don't sit by your hearth and grumble,
don't let mind and spirit harden.
If it's thrills of joy you wish for
get to work and plant a garden!
 
If it's drama that you sigh for,          
plant a garden and you'll get it
You will know the thrill of battle
fighting foes that will beset it.
If you long for entertainment and
for pageantry most glowing,
Plant a garden and this summer spend
your time with green things growing.

        
If it's comradeship you sigh for,          
learn the fellowship of daisies.
You will come to know your neighbor
 by the blossoms that he raises;
 If you'd get away from boredom
 and find new delights to look for,       
Learn the joy of budding pansies
which you've kept a special nook for.

        
If you ever think of dying and you
fear to wake tomorrow
Plant a garden! It will cure you          
of your melancholy sorrow
Once you've learned to know peonies,    
petunias, and roses,
You will find every morning         
some new happiness discloses.


 

Even though the unseasonably warm weather this spring makes me worry that another freak snow (we had one in October which felled tree branches) or freeze might be disastrous to the fruit trees, I must admit I love the extra months of warmth! Spring, with all of its fresh energy is one of my favorite seasons. It gets me back outdoors, biking, kayaking, digging in my garden, breathing fresh air and moist soil.

In honor of springtime beauty, here's a section of Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring. Composed at the request of Martha Graham, the well-known choreographer, Copland did not have a title for the piece when he was writing it. According to WIkipedia, Graham  suggested a phrase from a poem by Hart Crane entitled The Dance.

O Appalachian Spring! I gained the ledge;
Steep, inaccessible smile that eastward bends
And northward reaches in that violet wedge
Of Adirondacks!

Although the spring mentioned in the poem is actually a spring of water, the poem does describe a "journey to meet the springtime." Throughout the suite, one can hear variations from Simple Gifts, a Shaker melody written by Joseph Elder. I remember learning this as a Girl Scout many years ago. The words describe the joy found in a life of simplicity, finding one's place in the world and in one's community.

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
 
When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come 'round right.

The lyricism of the music and its decidedly American roots have made it a well-loved and familiar piece of concert repertoire. The version above is performed by The Seattle Symphony.
 
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Yesterday, in search of inspiration and with poetry on my mind, I landed in the Song of Solomon.  Ostensibly written by the son and successor of King David, the ''Song of Songs" is sensuous poetry, full of succulent imagery and profound declarations. While in college, our concert choir sang a setting based on the passage: "Many waters cannot  quench love, neither can the floods drown it." The experience was so moving, I had the words inscribed on our wedding program.

The passage below seems fitting as the sun-drenched days of spring have finally arrived; its phrases portray a scene as lovely as the cherry blossoms that float in my yard. The verdant landscape, filled with cooing doves, blossoming trees and fragrant vines, invites a bevy of senses to bask in the delights of the season. Then there is the lover, bounding over the hills as virile as a young stag or gazelle. Full of exuberance, he imbibes the same energy that animates the countryside. He delights in his strength, and the glory of the day, but is not satisfied. For he is also enamored of a young woman. Peering through the lattice, he yearns to have her by his side. She is his darling, his beautiful one. This intoxicating day is incomplete without the companionship of the one who owns his heart. "Arise," he says. "Come with me."

This call to enter life together is winsome, alluring. It requires only that the beloved leave her bedchamber and join the lover. And as I read, I find myself strangely moved. What invitation might be offered to me today, I wonder? Living in the aftermath of the Easter story, do I continue to believe, am I still well-satisfied (to use a phrase from Julian of Norwich) that I am beloved, that my presence is longed for? And what does he offer to me today, this resurrected Christ, full of vitality and eager desire? Perhaps it is to believe that the winter is past, and come with him into the season of singing. 

Listen! My lover!
  Look! Here he comes,
leaping across the mountains,
  bounding over the hills.
My lover is like a gazelle or a young stag.
  Look! There he stands behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
  peering through the latice.
My lover spoke and said to me,
 "Arise, my darling,
  my beautiful one, and come with me.
See! The winter is past;
  the rains are over and gone.
Flowers appear on the earth;
  the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
  is heard in our land.
The fig tree forms its early fruit;
  the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;
  my beautiful one, come with me."

Photo by Wally Harris: Spring paradise in the Galilee, Israel. Cyclamens and anemone flourish in the shade of olive trees.
 
Sometimes the movement in our lives seem so small, we can't notice it. Like buds blossoming on the other side of the valley, the changes are imperceptible, as in this poem by Wendell Berry. But the cumulative effect may often be seen by those who have a different perspective. Thinking of a dear friend last night, I can see how they are so much stronger now than they were several years ago. That same energy that make buds swell and anemones bloom has been at work creating peace, confidence, joy and hope in their life. From my vantage point I can see the light is changing around them. Spring has truly begun.
 
Can I see the buds that are swelling
in the woods on the slopes
on the far side of the valley? I can't,
of course, nor can I see
the twinleafs and anemones
that are blooming over there
bright-scattered above the dead
leaves. But the swelling buds
and little blossoms make
a new softness in the light
that is visible all the way here.
The trees, the hills that were stark
in the old cold become now
tender, and the light changes.

(from the collection "Given" by Wendell Berry)