Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Midwestern Spring: Close-ups

A few weeks ago I realized a scheduled lull in work (read: spring break at Pratt) was coming up.  A good freelancer would see that as a time to shake the trees a bit, make a little rain, seek out new revenue streams, or utilize a host of other nature-related images for 'do more work'.  Instead I decided to treat it like a vacation, and take a quick trip to visit my family.

I couldn't be more pleased.

In my defense, the week happened to include my dad's birthday, so with Mary and Tony's help I arranged to fly back to Indiana, to surprise him and Mom. I could pretend it was a purely altruistic act, but that always made me think of that old story of the kid who gave his mom a baseball glove for her birthday, or, similarly, the Simpson's episode where Homer gives Marge a bowling ball--with the name 'Homer' on it--for hers. Much as this was a treat for me though, I think Dad was pleased too.

Mary had invited them over to join her and Tony for dessert Saturday night.  Mom came in first, saw me, froze, then said "how did this happen?"  A few minutes later Dad came in, saw me, and said "how did this happen?"  (I suspect years of teaching and social activism means Dad is used to the unexpected, which is the reason he shortened the freezing part.)  I got the impression they both initially wondered if I had developed the ability to materialize at will anywhere on the planet.  Nice thought, and it's rather sweet that both my folks appeared ready to ascribe supernatural abilities to me so quickly, but they didn't seem too disappointed at the more mundane explanation. 

  We celebrated Dad's birthday a day early, on Sunday.  Mom and Dad each said they'd had a sleepless night or two in the past week, and had figured out that it was due to anticipating yet another celebration without James.  Birthdays have always been a family affair, so in this year of firsts, his absence was noteworthy.  We toasted him as well as Dad.  The occasion was understandably a bit muted, but still very nice. 

I haven't been in Indiana in March for many years, so it had been a while since I experienced the first glimmers of Spring there. Whether due to the slight change in latitude or less cement (not an exhaustive list), Spring was just a bit further along in Richmond than NYC. Or maybe the signs were just easier to see. Mary and Tony were rejoicing in the crocuses sprouting up in their garden, and appreciating the bigger showing of snowdrops, even if it didn't match their hopes, given how many bulbs they had planted. They had the bigger field at Laceyland to reassure them, though; the garden at Hazelthorne will have its own blanket of white flowers soon. Tony claimed Mary didn't let him buy or plant as many bulbs as he had wanted, a claim she vigorously denied, so to keep the peace I offered to act as witness to the future plan 'to let Tony go nuts with snowdrops.' Marriage is a delicate negotiation.

Seasonal changes are always a good excuse to look at things closely.  My eye kept switching back and forth from close study to drinking in the panorama. Today's post is mostly the close study.  For those of you not on Facebook (be strong, she's a harsh bitch-goddess of an addiction!), I'll post some of the landscape photos soon.  One of the many benefits of being able to return to one's hometown, hell, the actual home one grew up in, is the ways experiences can feel archetypal.  I wasn't just witnessing the start of Spring, I was witnessing it in the place where I'd enjoyed it for most of my first twenty-two years.  There have been plenty of changes to the place, of course, but many of those changes are for the better, which is always nice to see.  Things are both brand-new and memory-laden.

James would have appreciated this combination of rainbows and
pretty rocks. 
This, in case you aren't sure, is a crayfish hole.  Or crawdad, if you prefer.  Crawfish, even.  Not, however, craydad.  Unless someone wants to start a campaign.  If so, good luck with that.  For reasons I won't get into here, Dad has, for years, thought we should change the name of New York back to New Amsterdam.  When I moved here, he assumed it would be so I could head up the home office.  I've been dodging that agenda for fifteen years now, and it's pretty much a full time job, so I won't be joining any other whack-job campaigns.  

Um, so, anyway, that there's a crawdad hole.    
Mary and Tony are thrilled this pussywillow bush is thriving this year.  In past years the branches have been broken by squirrels before any real growth could occur.  I did see one squirrel climbing in it one day.  I prepared to go out and scare it away, but before I did, I watched it crawl to the end of a branch, and delicately nibble only the blossum at the very tip.  My theory is that one is the most tender, and the fuzzy nubbins on the rest of the bush are now safe by reason of unpalatability.  Not sure why it was allowed to reach this stage this year; maybe the fussy gourmet squirrels had a surfeit of other goodies to draw on.  Lord knows they're still looking sleek and tubby, though that doesn't impede their acrobatic games of tag. 

Dad and Mom have insisted for years that they don't need any more things, so Mary has taken to giving them nice trees, flowers and plants--plus labor--for their garden.  This year she gave Dad a couple of Peruvian daffodils and ten bulbs of freesia.  On Saint Patrick's Day I helped her plant them.  Two warm sunny days following torrential rain on the weekend meant the soil was close to perfect.  It also meant we discovered some shoots and blooms we might have overlooked otherwise.  Houseplants, much as I love them, rarely provide those kinds of surprises. 

I also observed my Saint Day by building a tiny dolmen for James' memorial garden.  Dolmens dot the landscape in Ireland and the UK, and their simple design, massive scale, and obvious age have always appealed to all the Laceys, but especially James.  History, big rocks, they have it all.  Mary and Tony had saved some of their border rocks for this purpose, and it was nice to be doing it on Saint Paddy's Day.  This mini version makes me think of the Stonehenge number in This Is Spinal Tap, but I'm okay with that. Pretty sure I would have had to get a permit and some serious equipment if I'd tried to make a full-sized one.  And besides, James loved that movie.   

My return to NYC (NOT New Amsterdam) was softened by being greeted at the airport by my Prince Charming, then heading back to his place where I fell asleep to the sound of peepers.  The following night Charming had his first experience of a warm night in my neighborhood.  We had each actually managed to get to sleep, despite the revelry on the street, only to wake standing a few hours later when a fire fighter blasted his truck horn and siren repeatedly, then issued commands on the bullhorn for the partiers to clear the way for the truck, or risk arrest.  It took several tries before people decided to move their moronic partying asses out of the path of a fire truck desperately trying to get to an accident scene. 

City life comes with slightly different seasonal markers.  Fortunately there are crocuses here too.   


Rev. AJB said...

My birthday, February 25th, was always the cusp of that change in Richmond. Usually the first slight hint of tulip and crocus leaves pushing through the soil. Haven't lived further south than Chicago since 1992; and find myself getting antsy around then for spring. Will be home overnight Friday, so will enjoy the promises of spring!

Give me a call when that walking on water thing works out for you!

With my parent's house on a creek, we had crayfish holes every five feet. I recognized that right away without your dialogue:-)

Glad you had a great visit.

Greg said...

Been meaning to drop you a line to tell you just how thrilled I was to hear of you getting to do some real gardening in Indiana, as well as being home for your Dad's birthday. I know missing it has been a bummer in recent years.

Wow, I love those little Dutch irises. I'll have to get me some. Tell Mary and Tony to be patient with their bulbs...often they bloom later than the regular schedule their first year in the ground!

Anonymous said...

Great Post! I'm thrilled to see spring budding out down here as well; it seems as though it swells hope in the soul as it does sap into the tree... a good thing for all of us!

Glad you were able to get to visit your family for your Dad's b-day; not nearly as thrilled as he I suspect.

Happy Spring to you!

Birdie said...

My birthday in late October is marked by the height of the fall colors. It's beautiful.

Thank you for taking us along on your family visit. (I too thought of Spinal Tap when I saw James' dolmen.)

Java said...

Do the party animals on the street in your neighborhood ever sleep?

Think of all the billions of stationary that would have to be changed if New York reverted to the old name New Amsterdam. The printers couldn't keep up. It would be a metropolitan crisis. I know how to spell New York, but am not as confident about the spelling of New Amsterdam.

Enjoy the crocuses, my dear.

Anonymous said...

As we just now emerge from winter in northwest Pennsylvania, I'm also on the lookout for the first harbingers of spring in the woods: spring beauties and peepers. Had forgotten how we lag behind Indiana by about 3 weeks. Comforting happy photos, Patrick