Sunday, February 14, 2010

enhanced seasonal perception

The grass had greened one morning when I blinked; I missed it again.

in “pilgrim at tinker creek,” annie dillard describes wanting to bear witness to that moment when winter weather turns to spring, as though it could be observed as unmistakably as a clock striking noon.

I plan to try to control myself this year, to watch the progress of the season in a calm and orderly fashion. In spring I am prone to wretched excess. I abandon myself to flights and compulsions; I veer into various states of physical disarray…and every spring at just about the time the leaves first blur on the willows, I stop eating and pale, like a silver eel about to migrate (108).

i know exactly how she feels. when i’m inside i can hardly take my eyes off the windows; when i’m outside i’m torn in all directions, wanting to soak up every moment, see every sprout, welcome every bug, smell every flower. i want earth under my nails, rain in my hair, sunshine on my skin.

friday night there was a heavy rain. saturday afternoon i took andy on a walk and we rescued stranded earthworms. today it’s warm and sunny again, and more plants are waking up, more bulbs stretching their arms.

last night i started reading a book called “kitchen literacy,” by ann vileisis, about reclaiming the knowledge of where our food comes from and how it’s produced. in the first chapter, vileisis writes about how all-encompassing was the process of growing and eating food in 18th century america. she quotes a farmer’s almanac, demonstrating the precise attention to and awareness of nature people maintained back then:

“Frost is out of the ground when you hear the first frogs. Plant barley when elm leaves reach the size of a mouse’s ear. Plant corn when oak leaves grow to the size of a squirrel’s ear.” ...Such site-specific cues were based on closely evolved relationships in the natural world that coincided with and usually indicated the end of frosts (19)...The earthy details of growth, frosts, rot, storms, and ‘buggs’ made nature’s larger cycles and patterns plain and made its opportunities and limitations tangible. This awareness mentally situated most preindustrial Americans in foodsheds, food chains, and myriad stories, and it spiritually situated most in a larger cosmos as well (28).

that made me think, why have i never started an almanac? every year i mark my calendar the first day i see a butterfly; sometimes i also mark down the night i first hear peeper frogs, and the day the creek bed in the back yard fills with water. i keep an eye out for “spring bugs”--the slow, short-legged, long-bodied insect i see every year which tells me (usually) that the last frost has happened. i attentively await the return of every sign of spring, but i’ve never been so orderly or meticulous about it.

this year i will be. i picked out a special blank notebook to fill with recordings of weather, plant and insect happenings, and any other important springtime incidents. this year i want to deepen my relationship with nature.

it’s warm enough today that i’ve turned off the heat and opened the windows to get fresh air in. last wednesday i noticed the first few flying insects in the air, and this afternoon there were small clouds of them dancing around the back yard in the sunlight.

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