We are taught to think of our year according to months and seasons. Therefore, it is April and it is Spring. Being a farmer, I am getting to see how the world does not fit in the tidy categories we like to give it. Instead, there is the time the red-wing blackbirds arrive. When the spring peepers start calling in the vernal pools. The maple sap flow. The snow drops blooming, seemingly always, first. Often, these times feel like a beginning, a marker in which we can say "yes, this is spring." But then the sudden snow storm, the too warm days the stop the sap flow, the rain that dampens the blackbirds song. They are less of a marker, speared permanently in time, announcing its presence, but more of a signal shot in the night that eventually fades into the background again that says "we are here again, for now."
The year seems richer, longer, more detailed and varied getting to observe all these small moments. It helps me let go of the very human-like tendency of needing a strictly linear beginning and end. This is the time of year where the never-ending to do lists begin and where I already feel behind. There is currently a backup in the greenhouse after some weeks of steady cool, rainy weather. Every year I trick myself in the winter months that this year I will be able to get working outside and planting by mid April. But if I paid attention to natural cycles rather than my calendar, I'd learn that it is an unlikely and risky gamble. There are some migratory birds who will push the limits and come back on the cusp of spring. The potential reward is to establish their territory first. The potential risk is their own lives in uncertain weather. I feel humbled that my stakes are so much lower.
As much as nature tempts you with thinking there is some sort of pattern, there will always be surprises. Yesterday, my husband observed barn swallows that had arrived before all the other types of swallows. Irregular. But normal. There is always a bit of chaos with so many variables.
But then there are times when there are large, unusual shifts. This year, migratory birds were observed 2-3 weeks earlier than last year and last year they were 2 weeks early. Those red-wings, which to me are the siren call of spring, arrived in February. Usually their song to me is a cheering relief of winter soon ending. This year I only heard it with dread. To some extent you could argue that these early arrivals are risking what they always risk. But climate changes increases the unpredictability and the length of time that they have to risk before getting in the clear.
I have a tender spot in my heart for April because of two dates on our human-made calendars. One that celebrates mother earth, April 22nd. And the next day, April 23rd, which celebrates the birth of my mother. My mother passed away now 18 years ago so I never got to ask her if she felt any significance in these dates. But I have always marked them as days of celebration and memorial.
But again, here is the problem with dates. They are only one day, one moment to do a thing we should be practicing daily. On April 22nd, I will March for Science. Others may do a lakeshore pickup. Or plant some trees. All good things, but only one day out of 365.
Similarly, with birthdays, we take time to honor and celebrate someone we love for their day of arrival. But how to we treat them, remember them on all other days?
Are we simply moving so swiftly through life that without these markers along the way, telling us to slow down and remember, we would speed right by those that love and sustain us?
I have made it my life's effort to break that linear mold of significance. Observing nature is a part of it. There is nothing like the natural world to smash our understanding of time. Reflection is another part. Like this blog and the deep thinks I fit in while seeding for hours on end. (See how time pulls me back into its language even as I try to separate from it?)
But life also needs action. I feel like a lot of my life has been searching for what I was supposed to do. The fitting thing that would be my testament, my offering. I thought for a while that being an environmental journalist would be it. Then an activist. Then a planner. Then a farmer. I kept looking around me, waiting for the marker, saying "Jessica this is where you begin." But in the mean time, I was already moving, I was already acting.
That's the thing, we all are taking actions every day, and these add up to whether or not the blackbirds arrive in February or in March. We affect both time and space with our choices every day, not just the one moment in the year where we choose to pay attention.
So I say to you: wake up! Pay attention to the wider field of vision! Look up and observe what shapes the clouds in the sky make. Learn the blackbird's call. For pity's sake, go outside and remember what dirt and green smell like. And then slow down and think. Where will the object you don't need go when you tire of it? Why doesn't your building have a compost pickup? Do we need more when so much of the world lives on so much less?
I used to feel guilty about contributing to a cycle of seemingly meaningless capitalism by growing and selling flowers. But then I started to think more about how transitory a bloom would be in vase. There is no room for attachment. It is the end of a life--one final flare of beauty we want to hold onto, but cannot. Even dried flowers have their shelf life. In the end, it all ends up as humus. As we all do, to be fair.
But flowers can bring attention to fleeting, tender moments that are here and go again in our lives, like birth, marriage, death. And those flowers can then be our triggers to remember these moments daily. I will always remember the flowers my mother planted every summer in the window boxes. To me they are a trigger to slow down and remember those now soft and faded memories of her digging in the soil and tucking in bright red and pink geraniums into our rough wooden boxes.
So bring into your home armfuls of the blossoms that make you slow down and remember. Yes, the time they are here is fleeting, but it does not feel so much when you immerse yourself in them. Stop fearing the end of things before you get the chance to really indulge.
My aim is to get involved more with my own precious life and this unique world. As Carl Safina wrote: "One doesn't wait for a revolution. One becomes it."