C.W. Gusewelle is away this week. His regular column will return. In the meantime, here is one of his favorites.
The spring comes haltingly, like a child already late to class or some old acquaintance arriving for a visit, unsure of the address and not quite certain of a welcome.
One day there’s sun and the creak of insects as night comes on. The next there’s a squall, with cold rain slanting and a voice of desolation keening on the wind. It’s a season of confusion, this one. There’s nothing to rely on.
A friend and I drove out the other morning on a serious errand. Sensibly, though, we took some fishing gear along in case the schedule should happen to change in a way altogether beyond our control. The early sky was clear and promising, the air sharp but still. Beyond the city, in the first sun, wild plum trees could be seen flowering along the field’s edges, sudden white explosions against the dark winter burn of woods.
We finished our business ahead of time and took lunch in the restaurant of a country town, perched with its courthouse and water tower and assorted steeples on a hill near the edge of a lake.
By now, a gray haze had blown up to cover the sky. The wind had risen to a raw gale, shaking trees, howling across the paving bricks of the town’s square, churning the lake to slaty ranks of waves and sullen foam. No boat was out — only rafts of northing canvasback ducks afloat serenely on that tumult.
We were in our winter coats. Our fishing gear was absurdly out of season. So was the baseball game on the car radio. So were the plum trees and the yellow wash of forsythia and the clumps of feral daffodils gleaming wind-bent in the dooryards of houses occupied now by nothing except small histories and some farmer’s bales of hay.
But enough description. You know exactly the sort of day it was, and perhaps even which particular day. Nothing much to remark about, though. About average for this time of year in this latitude. I got to thinking as we headed home, the car rocking and sometimes actually swerving a little in the blast, that maybe the glories of early spring have been somewhat overdone. We have it mainly on the testimony of poets — and poets, it is widely known, are not always the best reporters.
What distinguishes this season is its wild variety. It can contain — in the space of a week, a day or sometimes even a single hour — the most congenial weather and the most foul. And so of all our seasons, it seems to me the one most reflective of our lives.
Surely summer is not a life — all lazy suffocation and prickly heat. And neither is winter. At least I’ve not known many lives that were all sleet and aching brittleness without some accidental warmth of decency or hope. Autumn is flawless and must be disqualified on that account. Its days proceed in mellow perfection. There is nothing about it you would amend. But fiercely as we insist that’s what a life should be, it’s not one that many of us would recognize from having lived it.
No, give me a spring every time — especially this uncertain early part of it.
A day begun in comfort can end in raw despair. Or just as easily the other way around. There’s something to be said for knowing the difference between the two. Flowers open and millers hatch and bugs crawl bravely out before the danger of a killing freeze is quite yet past. There are great gains in it — and fearful losses.
It is not really the ideal sort of weather, but it is wonderfully familiar. It is the weather that our years have taught all of us to walk in. Or finally will.