Saturday, May 18, 2013

A Scourge of Seeds

When I Am Among the Trees

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
     but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, "Stay awhile."
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, "It's simple," they say,
"and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine."  
(Mary Oliver)

There are few things more wondrous than a tree in Springtime, when it seems to move without moving, to grow and change in the span of an eye-blink. They are living statues, rejoicing so obviously under the tender ministrations and delicate kisses of the new sun. They speak a language only understood by the birds and flowers and insects, and yet one needs only gaze upon them and listen for a few moments to learn the melody they sing so surely with their silent voices. While Duncan tends to walk with his nose and eyes to the ground, my gaze is pointed up, at the dancing tendrils of the willows, at the slowly blooming Russian Olives, at the Linden outside my window that will transform entirely my apartment in a few short weeks. I am in awe of the trees––all trees!––even the scourge of Narrow Leaf Cottonwoods that plague my small corner of the world.

I do not hate them. These cottonwoods, different than the more common Eastern Cottonwood that most people easily recognize, are wonders of Summer, reflecting the light in a way that freckles the world in gold and shade and dancing green shadows, cooling The Run on our afternoon walks. They are never still, even when the air is, and the sound of their leaves brushing against each other are as sweet as the soft twinkling of the chimes that grace my patio. They don't grow as tall as their eastern cousin, and their cotton is fine and beautiful and something I marvel at and don't mind at all. In Autumn they are magnificent, their voices loud, their presence soothing as the leaves turn pale yellow and then fall away where they can dance wild and run in the wind. They are the sentinels of winter, standing guard over the park and The Glen, their pale, rough bark catching the snow and holding it close like a drapery of loose gauze. It is only in Spring that they are a challenge.

It's their seeds I loathe. They are everywhere, impossible to avoid: lurking among the tall grass, polluting the sidewalks as thickly as the spattering of goose-droppings we dodge in winter. They are thorough in their infection of both The Glen and the park. Long and yellow, the seeds are covered in a thick and sickeningly sweet resin that catch the hair of Duncan's feet and collect into a sticky clot under his soft pads. Dunc spends much of our walks laying down to nibble at his feet, pulling on them, tearing the fur from his feet and then sputtering to spit them away before they catch in his whiskers and collect along his muzzle. And once he's done, his belly is covered in the things, which, if left untended, turn into twisted mats that need to be cut away. They are miserable, contagious things and I look forward to the day they have dried up and been carried away by the wind.

They are a nuisance, but only temporarily. In a few weeks they will be gone and the trees where they originated will be more glorious than before. Until that day, though, when they snow magic and bring a warm winter, Duncan and I will tread carefully and await the return of our Lindens and glorious-scented Russian Olives.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Look to the Trees

Every spring is the only spring - a perpetual astonishment. (Ellis Peters)

Yesterday on our first walk, while Duncan paused to sniff in the bushes for Oliver, the Siamese kitten who has only just been allowed to begin exploring the world outside of his patio, I stopped to look at the Linden tree that grows right below my window. Only a few furls of green dotted the dark branches, bright and new, damp with morning dew. Last year at this time the entire tree was adorned and was threatening to unleash its magnificent flowers nearly two months ahead of schedule. Linden is Latvian for July, which is when the tree blooms, painting the bleached, bone-white dog days with bright yellow blossoms and filling my apartment with one of my favorite scents. This year, however, Spring is running behind schedule and the greening has been slow but agonizingly exquisite.

This morning when we ventured out, Duncan again stopped to investigate for signs of the elusive Oliver, and I caught my breath at the sight of the very same tree rising up out of the shrubs, its uppermost branches brushing against my window. It had erupted in leaves, and yesterday's tiny moth wings of green were now flags, bright with certainty against the morning blue.

The same thing happened at The Glen.

In twenty-four hours the Narrow Leaf Cottonwoods (the scourge of my existence) had exploded with leaves, and they aren't done yet. By this afternoon they were even more full and the air was sweet in the way I've been yearning for since September when Autumn became an inevitability and the leaves began to drop in great depressing clumps.

Each Spring is a precious thing, and each time I walk through it I feel as though I am witnessing it for the first time, and appreciate it as though it could be my last. There is no time of year when I feel more alive, more connected to the world. Every morning and every afternoon bring the kind of delight I remember from childhood Christmas mornings. Anything feels possible and everything seems attainable.

What a difference a single day can make, and if you ever doubt that you need only look to the trees on a Spring day.

It's spring fever.  That is what the name of it is.  And when you've got it, 
you want - oh, you don't quite know what it is you do want, 
but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so! (Mark Twain)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Flowers (A Nearly Wordless Wednesday Post)

While I occasionally rush our morning walk, Duncan is always very good at reminding me about what's really important in this life we share.

To be overcome by the fragrance of flowers is a delectable form of defeat.  (Beverly Nichols)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Master of the Game

I have been working on a game with Duncan. In short, I hold a treat in one hand for him to see, then pass it very obviously back and forth from one hand to the other, moving slowly so he can follow along. After a couple of passes I fold my palm up around the treat, hold both hands out for him to see and ask which hand the treat is in––a very rudimentary version of the shell game. While he is very good at picking a hand, he isn't so good at selecting the correct one.

We were sitting on the hillside in The Glen this morning, the sun already high and warm, the grass cool under us, practicing the game. After several attempts at picking the wrong hand I could see he was getting frustrated so I moved slower and even more obvious than before. When it came time to pick a hand, he once again selected the wrong one, sighing and harumphing as he does when the treat eludes him once again. But he is not the kind of dog to grow discouraged so I decided we'd go again.

This time though, when it came time to pick a hand, he surprised me. Once both my hands were held out in front of him, he leaned back and with both paws chose both hands at once. As I was about to laugh he leaned in, slobbered me with a big wet kiss right across my nose and both eyes, knocking me back. Both palms came open at once and while I was falling backward, he leaned in and slurped up the waiting treat. By the time I righted myself he was sitting in front of me calmly, licking the last of the crumbs from his chin, grinning ear to ear, his tail wagging.

Clearly he's mastered my little game.

Monday, May 13, 2013


Anticipation is the greater part of pleasure. (Angela Carter)

I love Spring. I love that first perfect weekend when flower boxes seem to demand to be filled with golden pansies, pink snapdragons, and the soft purple of delicate violas. I love the slow greening of the grass and the even slower budding of the trees. I love the explosion of color and the tremendous perfume that fills my morning and evening walks, when the world is quiet and the light is soft. I love the feeling of sunshine on my bare knees and the perpetual squint I wear when we walk into it. I love Spring like I love my memories of childhood, like I love the flavor of peach iced tea, like the dusty yellow blossoms of the Russian Olive trees. If I could find a place of perpetual Spring, with a constant unfolding of riches and rediscovered glories, I could retire there and spend the rest of my days the happiest of men.

But this evening, while making the long drive home across Denver, and then again on my walk with Duncan, I realized that perhaps it is not Spring I cherish so much but the anticipation of it. Our trees are still naked; the first leaves are only now––after three well-earned days of warmth and golden light––beginning to unfurl, their tips moist and shiny like the wings of a newly-hatched butterfly. The air is not yet filled with those fragrances for which I spend my year yearning. Spring has been slow to come, teasing us with hours, and only occasionally a day or two, of genuine brilliance, and has instead played coy behind rain and snow clouds, low grey skies and chilly winds that hardly compliment the season. It has been an early-November spring, the crags of the branches dark and empty against the sky. But now it is here, there is no denying it, and part of me can't help but wish it would never come continue to tease and build, retreat and tease again.

We have spent weeks riding the cusp of Spring, our anticipation growing every day, our dreams unfolding around us. But now she has arrived, we have teetered, finally, away from winter and the promise of summer stands directly in our path. I have relished this slow awakening and want for it to go on and on without end.

With the sky as blue as it was today, and the grass as tall and new and soft around my ankles, how I could want anything else? How could anyone?

Waiting, if you know how to do it right, is bliss.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

All Seasons

I have looked at the weather forecast, and while it won't be as nice as I'd like there should be just enough sunshine and warmth to finally coax a green aura from our trees. With any luck this time next week Duncan and I will be walking through all the glory of a Spring we here on the Front Range have more than earned.

March and April are our snowiest months and it's not unheard of to get snow in May, but there was something a little disheartening about the amount of snow and cold we got on May Day, when we should have been picking flowers. Duncan, of course, was ecstatic though, running in circles through the stuff, rolling in it and snorting it while I marveled at his exuberance. It was short-lived however, because a day later it was as though nothing had happened.

For instance, this was a photo I took in the park on May 1st:

And then the same patch of sidewalk, with the same tree twenty-four hours later:

You would think Dunc, who loves winter as much as I love the sun and his dad, wouldn't have been as happy as I was. But Duncan loves this world and this place we call home in all seasons, for whatever it sends our way. He is not picky for he knows that life is wondrous and marvelous and beautiful at all times.

Sunshine dancing on the tips of blades of grass are just as sweet to him as the falling flakes that tickle his nose.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

May Day

I'm not sure exactly when the snow started––sometime between when I pulled the blinds and climbed into bed and 5:30 this morning when Pip crawled under the covers and curled up against my chest while Olive perched above me and mewed into my ear, a plaintive, hungry sort of sound that was supposed to summon me from my pillow to make her breakfast. We've been sleeping with the windows open lately, and although they weren't open last night, I'd forgotten to turn the heat on so the apartment was cold. I wrapped myself in a blanket while I stumbled around in the early morning dim, the cats dancing at my feet in anticipation of food. When I pulled the blinds I had to squint into the brightness of the snow and the brilliant white light of the low clouds.

May Day here in Denver. A day that should have found us suffocating under the fragrance of fistfuls of flowers but instead welcomed us with January weather––cold and wet and white and nearly heartbreaking.

At first the snow, sticking to the grass and trees while refusing to settle more than a few seconds on the walkways and road, didn't seem like much. But it was wet, and as Duncan and I walked through it I knew we'd be getting the five to seven inches predicted last night on the news. We trudged along, snow falling down the collar of my shirt, piling up on Roo's back. The robins were still out, clamoring across the parking lot and in the yards, pecking at the worms which had made the mistake of climbing above ground in countless, writhing droves. They squawked loudly as we neared, hopped away until we passed and then resumed their breakfast. Duncan didn't seem interested in the birds or the snow, which is odd, but it was nice to hurry home, where the heat had been turned on and my tea was waiting, steaming in my mug.

By the time I got home ten hours later, though, it was different. The birds had scattered, the snow had piled up high, bending the branches of the trees, and Duncan couldn't wait to get out into it. He danced and whined and jumped while I changed my shoes, grabbed my gloves and scarf and prepared to venture out. And once we were at the park and he was off-leash, he ran and rolled like it was the first snow of the season rather than the last. We had the park to ourselves, which is one of my favorite things. We chased each other, kicked up clouds of wet snow, cracked the quiet with our whoops and hollers and barks, and delighted in marring the pristine blanket for any latecomers foolish enough not to venture out.

I do not like the snow and cold. I do not like heavy socks and boots, coats and scarves. I'm a lover of Spring and Summer, color, brilliant sunshine, and the glory of the Lindens and Russian Olives. But when I watch Roo, when I see his delight and the look on his face, I sometimes think I could live that way forever with him, witnessing and participating in the celebration that is his life.

Dogs make everything worthwhile. Better than that, even. They make everything magical.