4.2.14 – Thinking About: Rites of Spring

April 2, 2014


All of us have our rites of spring, the moment that suddenly, vividly, marks winter’s absence.  For one friend, it’s the week the magnolia tree in her yard blooms.  For me, it’s when the forsythia bushes that line the traffic crossing through Central Park at 86th street start to bloom.  The yellow blossoms streak past the taxi window, thrown into contrast with the dark stone walls below and the just barely leafing trees above. This week the bushes just started to leaf; the buds can’t be far behind.  Finally, we’re inching towards spring.

Huge bushes of forsythia  lined our driveway in Vermont and each spring we’d gun the Jeep up the muddy driveway (mud season!).  There the gold blooms were in contrast to the muddy earth and the white-blue spring sky.  Back then, mud season was the real rite of spring. I must have been 5 or 6 when we came around a turn on the dirt toad that connected us to town to find a neighbors car sunk so deeply into the mud that you couldn’t see the wheels.  My capable, calm mother pitched in the recovery effort – which included wooden planks (retrieved from our barn?) and quite a bit of pushing.

I first read the Robert Frost poem Nothing Gold Can Stay in the spring of my freshman year of high school:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leafs a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

My English teacher, Louise Schwingel, pointed out the window at the early blooming gold forsythia, suggesting this was an example of how nature’s first green could be gold, which made absolute sense to me.  Louise required each of us to memorize one poem by the end of the year. ‘Just one,’ she said, ‘because you never know when you’ll need it.’ To illustrate her point, she recounted how a former student of hers, rendered speechless upon seeing his newborn son for the first time, drawing a total blank, suddenly spouted whatever poem he’d memorized. (And presumably, was so relieved to have had something appropriately sage to say in that moment, then wrote her a thank you letter!)    At 15 I certainly couldn’t imagine having a child, let alone why you might be so exhausted and overwhelmed as to be in need of a memorized poem.  But, I did memorize Nothing Gold Can Stay, just in case and to be suitably armed for the mysterious follies of adulthood. Twenty years later, I’ve never had the presence of mind to use Frost’s poem in any kind of momentous moment, but I do love to recite it as I cross the park in the first days of spring, thinking of all the years that have passed, of all the winters vanquished and the summers ahead.

PS: Some poetry experts on Nothing Gold Can Stay.

Also, for those of you not in NYC, a slow and shaky video I took of the 86th crossing last spring:

Forsythia Crossing Central Park from Design Scouting on Vimeo.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

ecs April 3, 2014 at 7:22 am

I think it’s so interesting that you also think of poetry when spring starts to appear. I’ve been thinking about an e. e. cummings poem the past few weeks. The smell of busy springtime earth is strong here and such a treat after all the years in Iceland.


Joanie April 3, 2014 at 8:32 am

Abbey, this was lovely and meditative. Just the thing for a short breather in the midst of a harried week.

Christina April 3, 2014 at 9:22 am


Mary Ryan April 3, 2014 at 10:05 am

Perfect post. I always recognize spring when the dogwood trees bloom in Brooklyn. My mother loved dogwoods and her birthday is April 25th. I always look for blooms that day…

Cate April 3, 2014 at 10:15 am

Louise! Lovely, lovely, lovely. Miss you! Let’s get together soon and celebrate spring.

Brenda Goupee April 3, 2014 at 10:39 am

We are still knee deep in mud luscious and puddle wonderful….what a delight to step into the colors of spring with you for a few minutes.

Angela April 3, 2014 at 11:41 am

It is sooo weird you post this because someone I know from the south was telling me just last week about forsythia and how when he lived in New Orleans, he knew spring would be there very soon when the forsythia bloomed. Being from San Diego, I had never heard of forsythia, so I decided to look it up. I just loved how vividly yellow it was. And now, here it is, in your post…another reminder of spring and the beauty it brings.

In San Diego, I always look forward to the Jacaranda and other various tiny blossom trees like Japanese pear, Almond, and Cherry in spring. Not that we have many seasons here, but that is when they bloom. HA! 🙂

Ling April 3, 2014 at 3:26 pm

It’s uncanny. The forsythia in my backyard just started blooming a week or two ago here in England and the difference it’s made in my mood is unbelievable. I grew up without the four seasons, but it’s fascinating to think about the sense memories and associations my son’s already forming as the months continue to unfold. Oh, and I memorized that same poem in school but wish I’d had a deeper understanding at the time. (It was fifth-grade language arts!)

Helen Labun Jordan April 4, 2014 at 8:13 am

Following your instructions in high school, I’ve recited the poem every spring to make sure I don’t forget it. Which I haven’t.

Hallie April 5, 2014 at 12:50 pm

Nice, bittersweet, made me cry a little. Eh, my stomach hurts, maybe it was just that. 😉

John Coltrane, Equinox: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5bYpuEWxRA

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