[NOTE: I’m categorizing this post also as “writing” because I am attempting to write a somewhat descriptive essay–creating a picture with words. I would be most interested to know if I approach this goal, but then again, I’m putting in several images to help . . . . ]
Received an ecard today from a friend filled with budding flowers and trees and an Easter message, and I realized that spring did in fact, ahem, spring going on a month ago, in late March, as it always does. Except in the high country in Colorado. Here, I have always maintained, we have one day of spring in which the aspen bud (aspen is both singular and plural so imagine I mean “aspen trees bud”) and the lilacs bloom. This happens some time in June, hopefully early June, hopefully after the last snow, and then we have approximately two and a half months of summer, if we’re lucky.
This early spring we’re having here in Colorado (completely apart from the lack of rain or snow and the resulting fire danger) is a little disconcerting. Whether it’s a weather (ooh, clever use of words, there, Gail) anomaly or a symptom of climate change (a scary and controversial topic into which I’m not going), that’s not what normally takes place at high altitude. Here, historically, we’re more likely in March, April and May to get heavy snows instead of snowdrops. I’m trying to remember (using increasingly faulty equipment) when we in past years saw the first crocus, the first robin, the first bluebird, and it seems to me it was later in April than has happened this year. I definitely remember, however, always seeing the first crocus peeking through the snow.
In any event, spring has a special feel to it, doesn’t it? Freshness, balmy air with a few brisk winds for contrast, growing things. I don’t think there’s a green as beautiful at any place or time as the green of new leaves with the sun shining through them. All the animals start up their lives again after the winter’s rest, scurrying around finding food and nesting materials, making homes, getting ready for babies. The birds chirp so cheerily and some of them dart around in such finery, their feathers so filled with color and life, they lift the heart. And even while recognizing the practical reasons for flowers, oh they look so frivolous and bright, waving in the breeze on their stems. Even here in Estes Park, where we don’t have much spring to speak of.
Now, New York is a place that understands spring! They do the season right in that state. Nature in New York starts with the forsythia, which is a kind of bush type of thing that in spring has delicate yellow flowers arrayed on more-or-less dark red new canes. The rest of the year, these bushes are kind of background, but in spring they become sun-colored lace by the sides of the roads. The forsythia is followed by daffodils, huge clumps of daffodils all blooming in a kind of yellow frenzy against the darker green of their leaves and stems. Then the tulips pop out, bringing pink and purple (and, of course, more yellow) into the mix. By this time, the trees have gotten the message and their new green leaves start to unfurl, making even an elderly dowager of a maple tree look like a girl again, quite giddy with the fun of dancing through the spring. If had lived closer to water (although in New York city, water is always closer than it is in Colorado, it seems), I would also have enjoyed the pussy willows (as we called them), the little paw-like catkins bursting out of the willow wands. I saw them in the florists shops, though, and touching their softness was almost irresistible.
Soon after the robins and bluebirds arrived, other bushes and bulbs would spring forth, and the flowering trees would turn into sticks of cotton candy, cloudy with pink or white blooms. Then, the most glorious of spring flowers would finish the show: lilacs bloom earlier in New York than I ever remember from Colorado and I love lilacs, their color and their scent, more than almost any other spring flower. In my Bronx neighborhood, there were several older houses that had lilacs bushes so huge they were more like trees, so filled with blossom that walking by them was a heady experience, the fragrance saturating my senses. And so spring renewed a tired world, animals and people and flowers coming out of their winter funks, with even the spring rains feeling soft and warm and welcoming.
Here, it’s quieter, somehow. The blooming plants seem to grow more closely to the ground and their blooms are not riotous in their color, at least not this time of year. The mountains in Colorado have glorious wildflowers that array themselves in rich, paintbox colors, but those come later on, in June or July. Now there’s the haze of green new growth that underlays last year’s dead stems, fuzzy buds on the aspen that will (hopefully after the last snow) break out into a green so delicate even from a distance you can see the veins in the leaves, and there are the crocus (croci?) with their pale lavender and cream cups and soft green leaves. Later, in early June, there will be the blue flag, a kind of native iris, which creates a haze of blue in the low-lying ground close to the reservoir and on the big meadows in the park (as I mentioned in an earlier post about how we in Estes Park talk, this means Rocky Mountain National Park, the best back yard in the world).
While all this greening and coloring is going on, the animals–and the people–start to put off winter coats and lethargy and begin making a big fuss about life again. While I always love to watch the deer and elk (and, yes, even the bears from a safe distance and usually on the other side of a window), it is the tiny ones that fascinate, the chipmunks and ground squirrels. Because they are fair game for predators (we are a wild place here in spite of all our cars and houses and electric lights), from bobcats to eagles, they move quick quick quick and then sit up and scan their surroundings as this one is doing:
Then, there are the birds darting through the air, building nests, finding new things to eat, flirting with the big folk. Truly beautiful birds make Estes Park and the mountains their summer home. While we may not have cardinals or orioles or purple martins as the East Coast does, we have Stellar jays (blue shading into black, unlike the blue and white of the more standard jay), camp robbers (I can’t remember their actual name, this is what we call them up here, big birds in gray and white, utterly fearless), ravens and crows, chickadees, cedar waxwings, magpies, downy woodpeckers and our own wonderful blue, blue, bluebird, among many others. They fill the air with song and their quick, darting flight.
And, later, in June, will come the flying jewels, the hummingbirds. Almost everyone keeps bait around their houses, either the kinds of (usually red) flowers the hummingbirds adore or a hummingbird feeder. They are enchanting to watch as they zip through the air or hover, with that distinctive sound they make, not quite the hum of their names, but not quite a buzz either. They are quite territorial, and the battles between two of the tiny males are more furious and aerobatic than any other aerial combat. They move so fast it is as if our eyes see where they were and not where they are. Here in the mountains, they arrive at the very end of the spring renewal, and they delight us all summer long.
Finally, there are the big animals, the elk and deer that wander around all winter in scruffy coats and lost antlers, now sleeking up into their summer wear, growing new weapons covered in softest velvet, eating everything in sight. And the bears come out of their dens in April (early this year, it seems), searching for food and frightening the populace (bears are not cuddly, not tame, and they are very dangerous). While we see bobcats and coyotes all winter, the eagles and hawks seem to reappear in the spring, as do the Canada geese and the whistler swans. They love our small lake here, a place to rest and find food during their travels. So spring increases our populations of animals, and that burgeoning brings the tourists, another sign of spring. If nothing else let us know it is nearly summer, the sudden inability to turn left would. And so spring, bringing our senses back to life after our winter naps, leads into summer, the rich, fat season, filled with skies nearly purple in their blueness, leaves darkening into forest green, animals raising sleek babies, the joys of water and air and rocks, views and breeze and tiny, surprising lakes, rivers and summer thunderstorms. And the memories of spring.
Spring’s pageant is ever new and ever the same. It is, after all, the circle of life, and as necessary to our planet and our lives as the sun itself. Perhaps it is intrinsic to spring that it be exhilarating, beautiful, warm, fuzzy, or perhaps that is just a bonus. In any event, even here in our much shorter, quieter springtimes in the high mountains, our hearts and spirits lift with each chirp of a bird, each bursting forth of an aspen’s leaves, each bloom of a lilac.