published Sunday, April 8th, 2012

Hansen: Reading the green tree mist of spring

Jennifer Hansen

During a quiet spring break, a late winter rain nearly flooded our neck of the woods. When it stopped, my husband and I hiked up into the quiet woods behind the farm. At one point, we parted briefly to explore in opposite directions. When we turned, we saw each other easily through the trees a few hundred feet away. I saw him wave; I knew when he smiled.

One week later, an unseasonably warm spring raced across the landscape. Woods and trees that days before were bare or barely budded were hidden in a pale green mist of emerging leaves. So early was the budding this year that calendars made no sense. It is March, said the date. It is May, said the woods. The calendar, of course, was correct. But the woods were righter.

Along the drive home, the woods along the highway were a luminous chartreuse spray of new growth. Already the tree trunks were hidden and the growth was dense. If anyone walked among them, they did so imperceptibly. Those of us halted impatiently in traffic several hundred yards away would not have caught even a flash of movement to make us turn our heads to look. And the few of us who glanced longingly into the bursting, blossomed woods might have stared into a stranger’s eyes and never known it.

Had my husband and I walked in the woods this week, I told myself as the traffic began to move, we would have found each other by calling, not by sight. This week, the woods are alive with calling of all kinds. There are rustling, whistling and singing birds everywhere, but we would still have found each other. We might be hidden by greening branches, but we do not sound like birds.

No one knows whether this strangely early and warm spring will last or whether we’ll still suffer one last blast of winter fury. Whatever comes, my small garden is safe. I’ve matured beyond the impatient gardener who invests her heart in tender annuals a single frost can wither. There’s still plenty of time for Mother Nature to change her mind or reveal it. And that makes me wonder at her logic.

If everything speaks to us, and it often seems that everything does, what’s the message of the greenly misted woods? I wondered about this as I drove home today, past woods that seven days ago were bare, where now the pastel beauty of spring hides the dark strength of the trees.

Isn’t that the way of things, I thought. We’re drawn to the colors of spring, but we know trees best when we see them without their covering of lovely. Only then can we fully see what they are made of; only winter shows us how strong they are.

And we are the same. We’re known best when we’re revealed the most, in sparer, harder times. Why are the woods not cloaked in winter? It defies maternal logic. Why would nature deprive the woods of shelter, cover and forage in the harshest months but offer these supports in abundance when the weather softens? Maybe all things must be tested to become strong. Not once, but again and again. Winters will come. They always do. And so does spring.

Within one strange week, the wooded world changed. The woods are dark and deep, says the poet, but not these days. These days they are alive with growth and scampering and the trills of nesting birds. At night, other things move and hunt and call, but I am home by then, nestled safely in my house. Surrounded by my nest of wood and glass, I watch the outside spring world darken and go to sleep.

Email Jennifer Hansen at jhansen@arkansasonline.com.

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