My Spring Vacation

As today’s the first day of spring, it seems timely to ask, why does anyone go on spring vacation? It seems odd to fly off to a southern, tropical, virtually springless destination at the very moment that one of the great astonishments of life on earth is taking place right at home. When friends tell me their spring vacation plans, they mention the word “escape.” Really? You want to escape from spring? That’s like fleeing paradise. Far better to escape to spring.

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You cannot access the magic of spring on your laptop or smart phone; you can’t watch it on TV or catch it on your radio or simply read about it. If you wish to apprehend spring in its ineffable splendor, you have to show up in person, with every one of your senses engaged, and personally participate in this annual miracle.

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The media world in which we dwell offers us a shared spectacle of limitless images, constant chatter, endless noise, infinite information, and mountains of data: at once a stimulant and a narcotic. What’s lacking in this manmade media galaxy, to my mind, is everything that matters: beauty, love, magic, mystery, grandeur, rapture, the miraculous. Not to forget, poetry, delicacy, refinement, purity, splendor, intimacy, innocence, fulfillment, inspiration. And then there’s nuance, drama, poignancy, integrity, harmony. Where will you find these? On your smartphone? Non. On your tropical vacation? Unlikely. Discover the magnitude, mystery and wonder of life at home, working in your garden, in springtime.

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If you are inclined to look for the meaning of life, get thee to a garden. There are profound reasons why the garden is central in the sacred texts of major religions. Since ancient times, the garden has been the place where the soul goes to exercise, while simultaneously engaged in a multi-layered dance with earth, plants, sun, birds, bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, night and day, temperature, the faithful earthworm, water, minerals, fragrance, a cast of thousands of microorganisms, our stalwart friends the fungi, chlorophyll, nectar. I think of it as a ballet in the biosphere.

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In primitive times, when people were more advanced, religion, science, custom, magic, ritual and myth—one and the same in those days—were chiefly focused on spring, how to encourage its return, and with it, the return of life. Unlike our vacationing escapees, our distant ancestors weren’t certain that spring would come around once more: the laws of nature had yet to be invented, and calendars in short supply.

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In the “Golden Bough,” James Frazer writes of the ancient spring rites, “It was natural that with such thoughts and fears he [our ancestor] should have done all in his power to bring back the faded blossom to bough, to swing the low sun of winter up to his old place in the summer sky, and restore its orbed fullness to the silver lamp of the waning moon.”

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There’s a difference between the first day of spring and the first springlike day. In whatever spring weather, take time to wander the garden and home landscape gradually, lucidly, taking note the season’s early arrivals, the flower and vegetable avant-garde.

The robins are on location, announcing their arrival with a song; starlings poke under leaves for savory insects and worms. In the vegetable garden, garlic and asparagus bask in the spring sunlight.

The lawn is dappled with snowdrops, crocuses, sweet william, vivid yellow winter aconites; tulips and daffodils push from the earth sunwards. The humble skunk cabbage is flourishing, having determinedly pushed its way through the snow a week or two back. Hail, skunk cabbage!

Fragrant hints of rosemary, lavender, thyme and basil criss-cross the herb garden. The moist earth, warmed by the sun, exudes a musky, sense-soaking mind-freeing perfume. The author Margaret Atwood observes, “In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”

 

Welcome to my spring vacation.

 

 

An abridged version of this article appears in the March 20, 2014 Wall Street Journal.

This entry was posted on Thursday, March 20th, 2014 at 11:25 am and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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