Signs of Spring

19 February 2010


Like Thoreau traveling widely in Concord, today I traveled widely in the Portland metropolitan area, from the northernmost edge of the city to downtown to Hillsboro in the southwest, back again into Portland proper and back again to Beaverton. That’s a lot of driving in Friday traffic, but the driving was made pleasant by the early signs of spring. A relatively mild winter (after two difficult winters, I might mention) plus several days of brilliantly sunny weather have teased many a bud to bloom only halfway through February.

When, as a child, my mother drove my sisters and me to Cannon Beach for a picnic in the summer, as we neared Cannon Beach we would all strain toward the windows to be the first one to see Haystack Rock (a large landmark on the beach in Cannon Beach). When we did see it we would all shriek out, “I see it!” in a nearly simultaneous chorus. In retrospect, I wonder that my mom was not made deaf by five loud children and I feel a little chagrined by the noise we must have made. In any case, this is how I now feel about the coming of spring: when I see the first flower, the first bush, or the first tree in bloom in a given year, I want to shout out, “I see it!” and claim my priority as the first to spot the oncoming season.

Someday, if money were no object, I would like to follow the spring as it unfolds across the landscape, first starting at the equator and moving north in the northern hemisphere, and then experiencing the spring again by starting from the equator and moving south as the spring comes to the southern hemisphere. One could experience a truly perpetual spring in this way.

Even if one is confined, however, to traveling widely in one’s native region, as in the Thoreau quote implied above (and which I recently quoted in Sitting Quietly in a Room), one can still see the effect of spring unrolling across the landscape, revealing itself progressively and incrementally throughout the microclimates of a single area, coming later to the north sides of a hill and to the higher elevations. With the necessary attention to detail, one might map out a route that kept one in spring for weeks on end without ever going beyond a day’s journey, like a medieval peasant who never got more than a few miles from his village.

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