The fullness of spring, in tiny increments
Canada Geese on the move in Putney, March 12.

The fullness of spring, in tiny increments

So much that used to matter, once upon a very long time ago, simply won’t anymore. Not if we’ve learned anything.

WESTMINSTER — It's as if spring has never come before. How the call of the Canada goose high above my head, several weeks ago, flooded my eyes with tears. It's not as though the sound hasn't always filled me with celebratory welcome, like the sight and song of the first robin of spring, the first glistening pink earthworm in its determined transit over the muddy road.

But, well, it's all more-so this time.

Maybe it's because it's been so long since a “normal” spring, the most recent one having been everlastingly defined by the sprouting of a virus across the landscape.

We have collectively been in a kind of trauma since the spring of 2020, barely keeping our chins above water. We have no idea, really, how profoundly this year has affected us (those lucky enough to still be here).

Only now, with vaccinations happening, does it begin to become possible to let in the fullness of it, in tiny increments. To register - to feel - what we have kept ourselves safely distanced from.

Because like anyone suffering trauma, we could not afford to register the full impact of danger and uncertainty.

* * *

Watching the pond down the hill transition from walkable to not, noticing the buds on the trees flirting with the rosiness of new life, I feel somehow as though I just now landed in Vermont, as if I haven't been in New England more than half of my life.

I used to dread the coming of spring, because it meant the end of skiing. Seeing patches of ground emerge in the snowy landscape made me forlorn. I would spend all spring and summer lonely for snow.

I had the good sense to keep this dread to myself, surrounded as I was by people ecstatic about the growing season, their maniacal seizing of the day: tilling, planting, composting, harvesting. All the fretting about insects and caterpillars, invading raccoons and deer.

These people clearly didn't know what it was like to live under the oppressive, interminable weight of the heat and humidity I'd endured in Florida. They didn't need to drive two or three days to get to a good ski mountain. They lamented the dog days of summer, cringing each September at the first chill. Meanwhile I was quietly celebrating. Soon I would be able to ski!

It's all rather funny to me now.

* * *

Maybe I didn't really become a New Englander until the tentative whispers of spring (and eventually even of summer) spread a grin across my heart, through my thawing body. Maybe the fact that I'd let go of downhill skiing by then had something to do with it.

Who knows? But at some point I was able to stop pretending to enjoy the winding-down days of winter. I fell completely in love with peepers, eagerly awaiting their dearly familiar voices.

In a typical spring, I'd have made a particular effort to hear them every chance I got. With my aging body having its own idea about sleep schedule, in recent years I'm seldom awake past sunset, when the music of peepers typically starts up.

So I'd learned, over a succession of springs, to open the window above my bed on retiring (never mind the chill air). That way, on awakening in the middle of the night, the sweet peepers would come to me from the pond. I'd again lay my sleepy head back on the pillow and get a deep drink of the song coming in through the window.

What a delicious way to fall back asleep.

* * *

Last spring had come and gone before I even remembered that peepers exist. How could such a thing be, that we were partway into last summer before it registered that I'd altogether missed the peepers?

That was one of my early lessons in the impact of the pandemic - that trauma we've all been subject to.

My attention had necessarily been elsewhere. Something in our frail but wise human selves is able to gently direct our limited energy resources to where they seem most needed. Some things are simply let go.

Only now, maybe, does it begin to be possible to discover what has been lost over the past year. And to find our way - maybe for the first time - to the bounty of the blessing of plain-old alive-ness.

It's not as though I haven't always loved being enfolded in my children's arms. But it had never occurred to me that hugging might not always be possible.

Could I ever again possibly take such things for granted?

* * *

How much is it worth to hear the peepers? Quite a lot, it's turned out.

This April, I expect to be spending some nights sleeping on the porch in my sleeping bag, so they can sing to me even in my sleep. So I can sit up, at intervals, and just take in the rapturous dark.

I don't care how cold it is - and anyhow, I've gotten used to being outdoors in the cold of winter, it being the only place I could be with my son or my daughter, these recent months.

How could I have ever imagined not being able to get popcorn at the Latchis and sink into one of those cushy seats in the dark? To see the fun succession of historical Brattleboro images trot across the screen before the movie starts, accompanied by the lively soundtrack of a gifted local musician?

Next time I get to do that (if that oh-so-lucky day arrives), I can promise you it will not feel “normal.” It will feel like a pure miracle.

I won't even care if the feature film is lousy, if it's predictable or badly acted. I will need to keep myself from giggling, from bouncing up and down in my seat, disturbing others in the dark theater.

But then, maybe they'll understand.

And if the happy day comes when I can go down the stairs into Mocha Joe's, taking my place in the long line of indecisive out-of-towners, and then I get to order a double breve, topped with foamy half-and-half (for here, not to go, so I get to wrap my happy hands around that thick warm mug the size of a swimming pool), it will not be remotely normal-feeling.

I expect tears will drop into the creamy espresso. I won't even try to hold them back, nor will I care what the non-locals make of the old gal sobbing into her coffee. Anyhow, I'm an out-of-towner myself: just ask any Real Vermonter.

And when I walk into Yalla to order a whole sandwich, please, on a whole-wheat pita, and I get to clap eyes on the handsome maestro of the glorious production (he who knows his way around falafel) - well, I hope he and the other patrons won't mind if I break into a lusty rendition of the Hallelujah chorus.

Speaking of which, when the first Saturday of December rolls around, I will take my joyous seat among my fellow altos at the Messiah sing. We will sing our bloody hearts out, not a mask in sight.

I always did tear up through that annual event, especially the movement where the soprano sings my favorite passage:

Come unto him, all ye that labor. Come unto him, ye that are heavy-laden, and he will give you rest.

Maybe that much will feel normal. But this time it won't matter how “good” the soprano is, or if she seems more nervously focused on how she's doing than on the meaning of her music.

* * *

So much that used to matter, once upon a very long time ago, simply won't anymore. Not if we've learned anything.

All we have to do is remember how it was in pandemic times. Maybe I'll never again hear the call of the first Canada goose that my eyes don't fill.

We just need to remember. Maybe some lessons get learned, taken in like the sustenance they are.

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