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.

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