Sunday, March 22, 2015

Managing expectations

It's midday on a cloudy, cold March Sunday in Minnesota. The forecast snow hasn't yet started and, looking at last year's snow fall photos, we're several weeks from consistently bare ground. Two steps forward, one step back, rather than a continuous, gradual transition is how we do Spring in Minnesota, at least for now. I have no idea what Anthropogenic Climate Disruption may do to how our seasons transition. Maybe the ride will become even bumpier. At the risk of depressing you, here's what I photographed last Spring.

March 27, 2014 snowfall
March 27, 2014 snowfall
Photo by J. Harrington
April 4, 2014 snowfall
April 4, 2014 snowfall
Photo by J. Harrington
April 16, 2014 snowfall
April 16, 2014 snowfall
Photo by J. Harrington

Fortunately, at this time of year, melting occurred quickly enough that we had bare ground reappear and open water continue between snowfalls. After all, Minnesota has reached a point where I think July is the only month when we haven't had at least a trace of snowfall. I've now depressed myself enough that this week it's going to be time to buy a bunch of forsythia, since I don't expect ours to leaf out for several weeks and have doubts about whether they'll actually blossom this year. I expect Spring to look like this, no matter how rarely it happens in my yard.

cut forsythia in bloom
cut forsythia in bloom
Photo by J. Harrington
Campbell McGrath's prose poem does, I think, a masterful job describing transitions of weather and other.

The Prose Poem

On the map it is precise and rectilinear as a chessboard, though driving past you would hardly notice it, this boundary line or ragged margin, a shallow swale that cups a simple trickle of water, less rill than rivulet, more gully than dell, a tangled ditch grown up throughout with a fearsome assortment of wildflowers and bracken. There is no fence, though here and there a weathered post asserts a former claim, strands of fallen wire taken by the dust. To the left a cornfield carries into the distance, dips and rises to the blue sky, a rolling plain of green and healthy plants aligned in close order, row upon row upon row. To the right, a field of wheat, a field of hay, young grasses breaking the soil, filling their allotted land with the rich, slow-waving spectacle of their grain. As for the farmers, they are, for the most part, indistinguishable: here the tractor is red, there yellow; here a pair of dirty hands, there a pair of dirty hands. They are cultivators of the soil. They grow crops by pattern, by acre, by foresight, by habit. What corn is to one, wheat is to the other, and though to some eyes the similarities outweigh the differences it would be as unthinkable for the second to commence planting corn as for the first to switch over to wheat. What happens in the gully between them is no concern of theirs, they say, so long as the plough stays out, the weeds stay in the ditch where they belong, though anyone would notice the wind-sewn cornstalks poking up their shaggy ears like young lovers run off into the bushes, and the kinship of these wild grasses with those the farmer cultivates is too obvious to mention, sage and dun-colored stalks hanging their noble heads, hoarding exotic burrs and seeds, and yet it is neither corn nor wheat that truly flourishes there, nor some jackalopian hybrid of the two. What grows in that place is possessed of a beauty all its own, ramshackle and unexpected, even in winter, when the wind hangs icicles from the skeletons of briars and small tracks cross the snow in search of forgotten grain; in the spring the little trickle of water swells to welcome frogs and minnows, a muskrat, a family of turtles, nesting doves in the verdant grass; in summer it is a thoroughfare for raccoons and opossums, field mice, swallows and black birds, migrating egrets, a passing fox; in autumn the geese avoid its abundance, seeking out windrows of toppled stalks, fatter grain more quickly discerned, more easily digested. Of those that travel the local road, few pay that fertile hollow any mind, even those with an eye for what blossoms, vetch and timothy, early forsythia, the fatted calf in the fallow field, the rabbit running for cover, the hawk’s descent from the lightning-struck tree. You’ve passed this way yourself many times, and can tell me, if you would, do the formal fields end where the valley begins, or does everything that surrounds us emerge from its embrace?


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