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CONTEMPLATING SPRINGTIME
By Sue Smaltz Burrus

This year I did not send pictures of forsythia and daffodils blooming to my sisters who live in the snow belt from Cleveland, OH, through Rochester, NY, to Bangor, ME.  It seemed somehow cruel to crow about those brave yellow blossoms in mid-February — especially since they are a harbinger of a long dry summer in the Pacific Northwest.   Actually, those ever earlier dots of yellow sunshine bring a mixture of joy and sadness to me that is difficult to resolve.  

Growing up in Indiana, we always had our Easter picture taken in front of the magnolia tree.  The forsythia was blooming at the time too, but it wasn’t so spectacular.  Some years the magnolia buds were just opening, sometimes in full blossom.  There was always a worry that there would be a late frost that would turn the creamy white flowers brown overnight, making the picture reflect a bit too much of reality. 

  

In 1966, as the magnolia trees and forsythia bloomed, the tulips grew, and my father became more and more weak from congestive heart failure.  He died on May 1st.  For years after, the beginning signs of spring brought a feeling of ominous foreboding.  In the midst of such beauty, all was not right with the world. 

 

After I was married in 1970, and moved to North Dakota, my husband and I had a “springtime” ritual that involved attempting to cook pieces of chicken on a tiny hibachi grill, outside, in sub-freezing wind.  The chicken was never quite done, and it made us laugh at the rest of the world’s definition of spring.  There were no flowers blooming in North Dakota in February, or March, or April for that matter.

Fifteen years later, we moved to Alaska.  My mother-in-law, Frankie, lived with us and had planted tulip bulbs around the house.  Even though she had lived most of her life in Montana and North Dakota, her faith in spring was astounding. That year she had carefully watered the bulbs with warm water and on Mother’s Day we noticed that the tulips were nearly ready to open.  You could see the hints of color as the blossoms pushed their way up and out. As we left the house to go out to dinner, we noticed our neighbors looking back at their house and ours.  A huge moose stepped over the chain link fence separating our yards.  It glanced at us, and then went right up to the tulips and chomped off each blossom leaving the sturdy stems standing tall.  “Oh no!” Frankie gasped. “I hope it doesn’t get the ones on the side!” With that, the moose looked straight at her, turned back to the side of the house and chomped every one of those blossoms off before it went on to the next yard.  Happy Mother’s Day!

In Alaska, the months known in the lower 48 as spring were known as “break-up”.  It was a time of dirty snow and mud —thawing icy roads in the short afternoons, and re-freezing into treacherous ice overnight.  It was during this time of “break-up” in 1992 that I realized in no uncertain terms that our marriage was over.  Several weeks before, I had decided to visit our daughter who was in college near Philadelphia.  On Good Friday I left dirty, muddy, grey, frozen Anchorage and on Sunday, visited Pendle Hill, a Quaker center for study and contemplation, for Easter.  My daughter and I were given a tour of the grounds filled with azaleas, dogwood blossoms, and all sorts of tulips and daffodils.  There must have been forsythia and magnolias too.  It was a riot of color and fragrance. Here, I thought was hope, and perhaps I could find faith as well.  

I ended up spending most of the next year there and then living in Northeastern PA for several years before moving back across the country to the Pacific Northwest. Here, the forsythia and daffodils seem to blossom earlier each year and, each year I am amazed.  I know that in other places February and March are still winter months; but here, I know that Easter and Mother’s Day will definitely be springtime, and I try to be mindful that climate change is a reality.

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