Spring is astonishing

I work in technology, and the epicenter of technology is in California. I have thought a lot about living in California, and repeatedly decided that I did NOT want to live in California. Many people transplanted to California talk about how they miss “the seasons”. I mean, paradise is great but it has no variety. I sometimes wonder in the dreariest days of early April (when according to the seasons I learned at the hands of English poets spring should be well along) whether the seasons are all that much to brag about.

May has had it’s fair share of showers

But then, oh glorious May! There is this thing that happens to color and sunlight in May that beggars explanation. It’s as though your eyes put on a saturation lens. Every color – from the blandest grays to the chartreuse grasses and indigo skies – looks more vibrant than you remember the world looking. The phlox is unrealistically pink, and soft to the touch. Fragrances – long forgotten out of doors – waft on the soft winds bringing news of nearby lilacs (my favorite flower). The way the golden light bends over playing children long into the evening hours seems like a double bounty. Not only is it a glorious, beautiful and rich light, but it lingers longer.

Spring is an excellent time for ambition. Oh, not as great as Fall. There is no better time for the embarking on great adventures than September (as Tolkien well knew). But when you step outside to mow your lawn for the first time in a calendar year and contemplate the land allotted to you, it occurs to you it’s not enough. You should put in a flower bed. You should plant some pansies. Heck, maybe you should buy out your back door neighbor’s yard and add it to your own! (I confess that latter is a fantasy I’ve entertained. Tragically, that neighbor has no interest in selling.)

Spring is the time of year when you make gardening commitments your July self will deeply rue. You know that, of course. Everyone knows spring decisions are unreliable. But you can’t help yourself. You don’t want to help yourself. You want to believe, in spring, that all things really are made new and you yourself are a different person. A greater person than you’ve been before. A person who will weed all year round.

My next door neighbor is just such a person. (If you’re one of the cognoscenti of my street, no this isn’t any of my neighbors you know.) Every year since they moved in they’ve seeded their lawn with new grass seed. They even usually water it (thereby going one up on me and my “only the strong will survive” attitude towards grass seed). But they don’t believe in actually MOWING said lawn. Those newly minted blades of grass poking up through the “one-step” grass seed/fertilizer & soil mixes will be grow unmolested until August, at which point they’ll be crudely mown (by a weed-whacker I believe) for the sole time in the year. (Unless I get sick of it and sneak over and mow it first, which is deeply tempting.) Still every spring, they plant. You can’t fail to admire optimism like that.

Proto plum

I have continued to follow the progress of my plum tree with avid interest. The winter moths have not arrived. I don’t know if that’s “yet” or if they’ve been successfully suppressed. I have found today a tiny, embryonic plum. I haven’t given much thought to the growth patterns of fruit, but since you generally only see the flower and the fruit, I thought the inbetween stages somewhat invisible – the ridiculousness of which belief becomes apparent as quickly as writing it down. They are indeed there, those minute plums. The one I spotted is less than the size of an olive pit – much less. But it is there.

The tragedy of my spring is that I am not overambitious just once (or even twice a year). I suffer from chronic overambition. I would say that this year has been extra super ridiculously busy, but if I’m honest with myself it’s actually only a notch or two busier than usual. A good portion of the extra busyness comes from the Pastor Nominating Committee, which I’m chairing. We’re meeting three times this week. And for a total of about 6 horus. And I have homework on top of that. The efficiency maven in me keeps looking at how we might do this faster & better, but it’s a process that resists shortcuts.

This guy would like you to know he is NOT a spiritualist and does not condone the ridiculous stuff his son gets up to. His son, meanwhile, has his name on the plot in no less than FIVE spots.

I find myself caught between two powerful feelings – on one hand the feeling that this is all to much and I absolutely have to slow down. On the other hand, there’s this pressing and persistent guilt for all the things I have not done, which I have not put my hand to. I do absolutely nothing for the PTO. I would love to do more things with town history, but I’ve never even used the brand new microfiche machine in our library. (Although I’ve dispatched others for information found therein!) I really want to put up a sign marking the Nobility Hill Historic district. Two in fact. I just need designs. And money. Those just need… time. I haven’t seen half my friends in far too long. I turn down party invitations I’d rather attend. I don’t have season tickets to the theater. I don’t practice my trumpet. And I wish I spent more time with my kids. They’re neat people. It’s been ages since I attempted anything complicated in the kitchen. And the prime time of foraging season is here and I have not set foot in the woods.

In my defense, this weekend I did see “Guardians of the Galaxy” (both 1 and 2) with my kids. I finished reading “The Two Towers” for the, uh, I have no idea how many times I’ve read it. But when you have your own personal “director’s cut” (which I *didn’t* read) you may have read it rather often. I did a ton of PNC work. I cleaned up the “clothes to donate” pile. I took a 3 hour tour of Lindenwood Cemetery. (GUYS! Stoneham was a hotbed of spiritualism! The ghost stories just write themselves, really…) We went out to dinner with the gift certificate we were given in gratitude for rescuing a hiker last year. I played two board games. I attended one soccer game (our team won!). I went to church, and the International Potluck afterwards. We saw Gabriel at the theater with the boys (it was excellent!). I mowed the lawn and the space where I want to put the “Nobility Hill” sign. We went for a run. I made dinner & we watched “Bertie & Jeeves”. And then I realized I had no idea what to write for a blog post and went for the extremely creative “well what’s the weather like” prompt.

And honestly, this was not a super duper busy weekend. Not even the fullest spring-intoxication can beguile more commitments out of me!

Thane was a very effective goalie!

One last word on spring. I’ve often contemplated the shift in metaphor that separates us from our forepoets. Both Homer and Keats – worlds & thousands of years apart – have seen real live sheep in the flesh. They know what they are to the touch. What a clean pelt feels like. How a contented sheep sounds. These are things that thousands of years of history have in common with each other. And they are things which have abruptly been removed from the common experience – or at best made isolated and rare. The rich metaphors are drying out in a world that no longer does the things we’ve always done.

But the seasons still remain. The stars have faded (when is the last time you glanced out and the sky was clear enough you could see the Milky Way?). The livestock are gone from our lives. We neither sow nor spin nor shear nor reap (the latter being especially true for my neighbor). So what remains as connection is all the more precious. The seasons remain. The daffodils still bloom, as once they did. Our hearts are “pricked” and we long to go on “pilgrimages”, just as Chaucer said. Even as much falls away, or becomes an intellectual adventure, we still share those seasons with those who came before us.

And that, my friends, is why I will not move to California.

Goslings are cute. Geese are jerks.

Even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art winter

Hope in trying times

So, in case you hadn’t heard, New England has become Narnia under the reign of the White Witch: always winter, never Christmas. Tomorrow is supposed to start out in the low teens and there’s a major nor’easter heading our way for Wednesday, which at least will cover up our dirty old snow with nice clean snow.

But… it’s actually been a few weeks since our last major pummeling. Granted those weeks have been icy cold, but the spots that sit in sunlight have shed their coats of ice. (Meanwhile, the shady places where people shoveled snow to are still glacial wonderlands.) Today, a few days into the theoretical spring, it got up to 50. All across New England we contemplated shorts and tank tops in celebration.

The Flynn family made our way the library this morning – on foot. We usually go on Monday nights, but Grey had finished book 1 of a series and was dying for book 2 (which tragically is not out yet). Still, it was a strange novelty to walk across sandy, beach-like sidewalks with hardly any ice patches the two blocks to Andrew Carnegie’s gift to Stoneham. After we restocked the boys, I thought I might show them that there were actually *other* parts of the library than the kids’ section. We found one particular spot, and Grey begged to let us stop and read there. “Don’t throw me into the Briar patch!” I thought. He settled down with a graphic novel. Thane, our new reader, pulled out a Suess, and Adam and I paged through a book of Maurice Sendak’s art.

When Grey finished his book, we headed further. The next sunny, cozy patch also tripped up my eldest. I was a little less of a pushover this time – the little one had been very patient, but he was ready for action! So Adam and Thane went back home while Grey and I read in sunbeams.

Apparently this one is about zombie goldfish.

We made it home eventually. There was lunch, and Fate, and reading, and laundry. It started to rain, which made me happy because liquid water, but sad because hiking. Then it stopped raining which made me happy, because hiking.

Although the paths were muddy and the wind was cold and there were almost no hints that it was not just a thawing patch in January, it was glorious. We walked and climbed and joked and looked and felt the sun on our face. We got a tiny bit lost. We found the Panther Caves and talked about the Mountain Lion that might be hiding there and came up with six names for Mountain Lions where there should only be five. (Mountain Lion, Panther, Jaguar, Cougar, Catamount, Puma – we know we are wrong)

It was glorious.

Having been watching the new Cosmos with the boys, I became obsessed with finding a Tardigrade and seeing one for real life. So I swiped some vernal pond water and moss to see if I couldn’t find this mythical, ancient beast. After some dinner (mmmm Five Guys), we pulled out a long-disused microscope. Adam and I made slides out of plastic packaging, using an aluminum plate to spot interesting stuff while the boys had a soap-fight in the bath. (Note to self: they’re never actually old enough to leave alone in the bathtub.)

Prepping the slide
Prepping the slide

We didn’t find a water bear, but we did score a little devilishly fast water flea, a microscopic worm, a beetle, new moss roots, a weird looking seed and a something that had tiny creepy ticks embedded in it. In the immortal words of Calvin, “There’s treasure everywhere.” Adam and I came to the very scientific conclusion that we need a better microscope because we want one.

So there it was. A Saturday perfect in its Saturdayness, full of all the things you think you are going to do with your children before you actually have children. Better yet, for me it was bookended with breakfast in bed (my husband is kind and loving) and practice on both trumpet and guitar. There are many days that are much harder, when you feel the color seep out of your life and perspective – turning it to a black and white version of a WWII prison camp movie. This week was a hard one for me, for many boring reasons. Next week will hopefully be better, but not warmer. But today? Today was glorious.

Porch time

It’s the middle of April – exactly – today. It’s a time of year where New Englanders start to believe that maybe there are only one or two good snowstorms between them and the three weeks of beach weather we call summer. Friday was the Sox home opener.

I’m sitting – in short sleeves – on my front steps (glare making it hard to read the screen) watching my eldest playing in a gaggle of kids across the street while listening to the Red Sox (winning!) while Thane sleeps. Ah, bliss!

It’s been such an unseasonably warm winter and spring that the oddness of this near 80 degree weather is masked. I mean, we’ve already had 80 degree days this year… why should it be weird to have one before Patriot’s Day (the Boston Marathon day, tomorrow, a state holiday). But oh it is odd. It is an extreme weather event, this winter and spring heat. It’s a rather lovely one, but a touch ominous for all that. Still, I could lament, or I could enjoy. Enjoying seems like a better plan.


My husband was out of town this weekend at Helgacon. I haven’t heard the report on how the Cthulu game went, but it seems like “A good time was had by all”. I’m sort of bummed I wasn’t there, but my mother-in-law is in town which makes things easier. The nice weather has heralded neighbor time (before they’re all gone for their summer activities), and we had an impromptu bbq last and heading into temperate dark. I followed up with a few board games with a neighbor, and conversations. It’s so lovely to feel the leisure of warm weather.

Yesterday we went to IKEa – a marathon adventure. No life-changing purchases: bookshelves and duvet covers and white tapers and enough meatballs to feed an army.

Mmmmm the lassitude of the afternoon keeps stealing any attempt I might make at a thesis statement. Suffice it to say: life is busy, warmth and friendship are a joy.

Procrastination vs. Planning

So this year, the result of doing taxes is likely to be me sitting down and writing a very large check to the US government. If I’m lucky, it won’t involve a penalty for having to write TOO large a check. Back in the old days when I used to get refunds, I’d be waiting at the mail for my last W2 so I could get my taxes done by February 4th. Now, though, well….. let’s just say that several weekends have come and gone where I probably should’ve done the taxes and didn’t. Finally, though, we’re in April. (For all the weather doesn’t indicate that.) Time to be done and get it off my list and my conscience. So I sat down at my official tax and bill doing computer, read several websites, IM’d with my mom, found some baseball on MLB.com (Orioles vs. Rays – not sure who I’m cheering for), fixed my MLB.com account and then finally meandered over to log in to the tax web site.

Hmmmm… what’s my password? Maybe this one? Or that one? Or possibly the other one? And then I got a nasty note, “You’ve made 3 unsuccessful attempts to sign in. Your account has been locked for security reasons. Please try again in 20 minutes.”

Greeeeeaaaaaat.

So that’s what I’m doing right now. Burning 20 minutes (since I’ve already read all my websites) until I can try and log in again in order to have the fun! and excitement! of doing my taxes. You see where you rate.

Lessee… what’s up.

Well, today was the opening day for the Red Sox. I would probably be more ebullient about this, except they got creamed by the Rangers, which was not in our opening day plan. One game in, and Red Sox nation is already panicking because two of our best pitchers had bad outings. It’s great to be a Red Sox fan, when you can start whining while the winter snow is still on the ground!

Speaking of, we got real actual snow last night. I walked out and immediately experienced some nasty PTSD – Post-traumatic Snow Disorder. It’s widespread in New England this “spring”. I’m so ready for summer!

Still, it was beautiful coming home tonight. The snow reduces the visual noise, making heterogeneous locations momentarily homogeneous. The snow had melted on the branches of the trees, turning the trunks of winter-worn maples bright black against the white snow and steel sky. The tone of the light has changed from wan to bright, bringing a strange dissonance to the scene. And the trees are this wonderful pregnant grey, with a faint shimmer of red like a blush on a maiden’s cheek.

OK! Long enough! They let me log in! Now to really go do the taxes. Right after I check to see if any of my favorite blogs have updated in the last 10 minutes….

In the last 48 hours

I’ve made five pies, hosted about 25 people for Piemas, gone on the first walk of the spring, had five people spend the night, and woke up in the morning to discover my entry area redone.

Exciting! It would be even more fun if I didn’t have a nasty cold. I just hope that I didn’t share it with anyone. I washed my hands a gazillion times and covered all my everythings, so here’s hoping!

Anyway, you don’t get a real blog post. Instead, you get a picture post. In this month’s thrilling installment we have:

– Awesome cardboards spaceships at the table
– Silly boys on laundry baskets
– Thane playing Angry Birds with grandma
– Grey hanging around with some rapscallion
– Jessica, also associated with said rapscallion, and the combinations reading books
– Piemas
– A family portrait (because the last picture of all four of us was taken last spring)
– Surprise!
– Playing with the light settings
– First playground of the spring

March2011

How fast the time flies

I remember the longest hour that ever existed. It was in Mr. Johnson’s math class — geometry, I think. I remember having the time to notice every single thing about that hour — the droning buzz of chainsaws from the nearby hill being logged, the way the sunlight was golden on the fading azaleas in the interstices of the school, the hum of the overhead projector with the thick black pen markings disappearing into scroll-like rolls, the drone of his voice explaining arcane mathematical phenomenon I did not then and have not now mastered, the coldness of the computer room behind the math room with all the proud ’80s era Macintosh computers sitting under dust covers (it was the mid-90s). There was no whirling of time, no speeding by of concepts or ideas, no blurring together of moments. Every single long second, all (60 x 60 x 1) of them had my complete and full attention, without the distraction of, you know, things of interest. I’m not sure why that was the longest hour of my life, but I do believe it was.

Lately, however, I’ve noticed a phenomenon I had been warned about. Time is clearly speeding up. This makes sense, from one point of view. If you consider each hour as a percentage of your time alive and aware, as you grow older it becomes a smaller and smaller percentage. Perhaps that 16 year old me in that corner-classroom was the optimum point between awareness of time and watch-ownership, and percentage of life an hour represented. In truth, I’ve heard that time stretches out when you are confronted with novelty, because your brain has to explicitly save more of it. For example, you’re unlikely to remember every minute of your commute home tonight. Your brain doesn’t need to save that information: it’s just like yesterday’s version and likely very similar to tomorrow’s. So why bother? The first time you scuba dive, however, every single sensation and view you experience is unlike all others you’ve experienced and your brain saves far more of the information. It’s why a new road you’ve never driven that takes 20 minutes is so much longer than your 20 minute commute, or at least feels that way.

Into my fourth decade, I encounter fewer and fewer novelties in my daily living. My brain relies on the tropes, stereotypes and previous experiences. Whole days, I have no doubt, go by without creating a single memory that will endure past the year. No wonder time seems faster, when I remember less of it.

All this is an extremely long lead in to a statement I never thought I’d say in my entire life in New England. But here it is. Where did the winter go? See, I’m totally used to summer flying by in a flurry of sunscreen and “just keep driving” fantasies as I head on Northward roads towards a climate controlled office. Spring is inevitably fleeting. Fall has the enduring quality, but still slips through my fingers like ribbon on a birthday present being opened with eager hands. The five minutes of Christmas when I deeply breathe of the scent of balsam and stare at twinkling lights persists, but the remainder of the month is gone. However, I can usually rely on January, February and March to provide me with the unchanging interminability of misery that is winter. Ah, winter! The one time of the year that you aren’t pressed on all sides by missed opportunities! Winter! The season when you go to work thinking that at least you’re not missing out on anything fun. Winter, that usually returns three or four times after you dare to hope it’s left for good! Winter, when it is what it is and you can’t complain but you do anyway.

This year, through phenomenon unknowable, winter went really fast. I can’t blame the kids — this is Grey’s 4th winter and Thane’s 2nd. I had a mix of old job, time off and new job (which the novelty of the latter should’ve slowed time down, according to my above hypothesis). It wasn’t a supremely easy winter. I shoveled a fair amount of snow. Granted, Spring did come a bit early and it was one of the warmest Springs on record. I’m sure that plays a role. But in previous winters I remember dramatically complaining that my marrow had frozen and there was insufficient heat in the fast-fleeting summer to melt it before the dreaded chill arrived again. This winter, my marrow was barely refrigerated.

With such a scientifically minded readership, I’m sure none of you will go thinking I’m jinxing Spring by talking about it – as though it’s a no-hitter. I, personally, am often bemused by just how superstitious I really am. But it’s almost May. I’m headed to FRANCE next weekend, for reals. It’s a matter of weeks until our first camping trip of the year. The leaves on the tree out my kitchen window are in full spring color and bloom, fast approaching full size! Could even the most powerful of jinxes bring winter back now? I think not.

So here it is, spring. And here comes summer, hazy, turgid and fleeting as it is. May I find enough novelty, enough observation and enough patience to make many memories that endure for colder winters ahead.

Father and brother
Father and brother

Son
Son

Grandfather and grandson
Grandfather and grandson