Orchard in March by Norbert Blei
MARCH NOTEBOOK I.
There is such a solitary beauty to orchards in March, row after row in winter white, bare branches yielding both to stillness yet already reaching for sun, for buds, for green, for spring blossoms when their world comes alive in a dance, in chorus lines all pink or pop-corn white…such beauty to behold for passersby. Look at us! You will find nothing more beautiful in the fields of Door…not rows corn, not stacks of hay, not patches of pumpkins. We are mystery, we are magic…our generosity, unending…blossoms galore–to red cherries, juicy apples. And then we rest awhile again in silhouette, in clear calligraphy, thinking March, spring pruning, the flowery fire within us.
THIS IS THE MOMENT BEFORE RESURRECTION…when the earth’s bare bones protrude through the dead grasses and blanched leaves…broken and dead branches, stones, birch bark, the ground littered with the broken limbs of trees. Color, if it can be called color at all, muted browns, qualities of gray, shades of yellow in stages of decomposition a long, long time. A quiet medley in morning, decay, where even the suggestion of funereal black seems too rich for this soundless, sameness theme of dereliction. A certain weightiness of angst that has suffocated the earth for weeks, now that the snow has gone, leaving it lifeless, the color of old tallow, with hardly a memory of green.
MORNINGS WHICH COULD BE OCTOBER…unraveling in a slow dance of fog, heavy and cold breathing, the solitary walker’s footsteps borne aloft amidst black, wet trunks of trees waltzing by, fields and farmhouses drifting forward and back in a rhythm of waves, the caws of crows wrapped in gauze, the world waiting invisibly for revelations of sun.
THE FIRST SPRING CALL OF THE CHICKADEE…such a plaintive cry, finally heard this early March morning after cold and snowy weeks of waiting for something that speaks spring to arrive. It’s even more reassuring, more bitter sweet, earlier in the year…back in February, in January, in those days when winter is tangled in an old man’s workshed-mind as he rummages through seasons of junk and discontent and suddenly discovers an old red fishing bobber warming his hand.
THIS IS THE TIME OF THE THIN ICE…the saturated snow, sap running from the maple trees, chipmunks and squirrels scampering across the sometimes wet, sometimes frozen earth, birds finding their way back, mornings and evening dressed in fog, the sun trying to distinguish itself in a black and white photograph. A knock at the back door: no one is there.
TALK WITH A NEIGHBOR YESTERDAY…who keeps eyes and ears attuned to the natural setting. “Red-winged black birds are back. I could hear their call in the trees the last few days,” he says. “Crows nesting. Meadowlarks should be here soon. Peepers in another month, still too much ice for them to come out.”
THE EVIDENCE ALL AROUND STILL SPEAKS WINTER…the snow has not yielded the fields; the ice has not revealed the rivers, the creeks, the lakes, the low wetlands; temperatures at night remain comfortably below freezing; the furtive wind seeks its familiar northern pathway; there is a silence everywhere about to speak.
SLUSH…the seasons still teasing each other on the first day of spring, 32 degrees, rain falling all night, snow falling all morning. Slush. Walks, pathways, roads, fields covered in white, filled with this magical mixture, water and white. Along the trunks, high into the lacy branches of beech, birch, maple and pine, winter has etched its beauty along the dark lines…birds shake their feathers, horses shake their heads…smoke from the farmhouse chimney climbs then merges gray into white. Winter exercising its failing strength. Only a momentary thing now. The miracle of air, of water, of snow. Snow no longer what it was. Snow what it is: a magic act. Invisibly visible. At the mercy of warmth. The coming sun, only moments away. The advance of spring. Now you see it, now you don’t.
MARCH 23…Robins, robins, robins…
THE SEE-SAW BATTLE WAGES ON…mornings of thick, wet snow followed by afternoons of warmth, of sun, of the white lifted off the landscape like the quick vanishing act of a magician’s hand, like a woman removing a bed sheet with a flap of two arms…revealing the dull earth in all its tangled confusion–leaves, sticks, stones, earth–of late last fall. Lasting for days. Followed by thick, wet snow blanketing the earth again.
THE BAY THIS YEAR (Sister Bay) EITHER OPEN OR MOST LIKELY STILL LOCKED IN ICE…(Consult `The Ice- Out Chart’ compiled by Bill Bastian.) Some say it won’t move till two winds blow simultaneously–one out of the northeast, the other out of the southwest. Others say it should happen soon because the ice in the bay has turned black. Only a short distance beyond the ice, however, open steely-blue water as far as the eye can see.
THIS IS MARCH MAGIC…the sight of men deep in snow, deep in their orchards on a mild winter day, pruning apple and cherry trees; cold nights, mild days–the sap is running, the trees are tapped…maple syrup time; wind howling its warm and cold memories of the at its mercy of sound and invisible strength; the snow-cover along the road’s edge, slowly drawn back like a blanket by the sun each day, exposing more and more earth; the first sound of a robin, March–the first day of spring, March—the first regret that the privacy of winter will soon be lost.
IT ALWAYS RETURNS WHEN YOU LEAST EXPECT IT…winter snow, which both breaks and lifts your heart. Your mind is in two places: that need to recapture the returning song of the unseen robin in the woods just a day or two ago. The yearning to extend the white curtain of isolation a little longer. You are better in winter. A better human being. More tolerable. More thoughtful of the darkness within you. More holy. More serene. The silence suggests the comfort of a quiet end. You have been taken away. Disappeared..
UNDER A CAT FUR SKY THIS LAST MORNING OF MARCH…amidst a final gasp of new fallen snow last night, filigree-ing the branches of old maples and birch, threading the high electric wires stretched down the road to infinity, dusting the fields and fir trees …the sudden stop-and-go burst of robins everywhere, flashes of sunny breasts helter-skelter through the woods, to the tops of trees and telephone wires, and down to the fields, a sweep of charcoal gray wings into a stand of pines, fluttering snow.
TO LOOK UP FROM THE DESK AND OUT THE WINDOW AT 5 P.M…and still see daylight at this time of March, both delights and saddens me. I need that late afternoon, lingering sun…that drowsy vermillion light that warms the bark of the white birch to a rosy glow. I think of the days ahead and that same light stretching into 7, 8, close to 9 o’clock at night when I will know again the pleasure of coming back to the coop and working on into darkness. That same darkness that I miss now…that disappears a little earlier each day with the change of season. I want the early darkness. I want winter and night outside my window at 4 P.M.
SIGNS OF THE LAMB….the narrow path through the snow I have shoveled all winter, from inches to snow to a late March depth of more than two feet. But with the thawing of the past few days, I watch the path visibly spread, grow wider with each day…now last fall’s leaves, dead grasses, the wet muddy earth at my feet; the chipmunks have awakened…tame, gentle, amazed at the sight of snow they carefully tread. Comic creatures caught above the earth on a landscape they find impossible to negotiate, running crazily here and there, back and forth…put of place, out of time…squirrels, too, encouraged by their time-clocks are now chasing partners across the snow covered ground, up and down tree trunks (occasionally fully engaged), acrobatic acts from tree to tree along the mazed circuitry of bending branches, sometimes, incredibly, missing the connection–as yesterday, when suddenly a squirrel came plummeting at fifty feet from the sky, head first past my window, landing in a one foot cushion of snow, shaking it off and dashing up again. But, ah, the serenest sight of all–here and there in some of the woods that still sing the old songs of March: galvanized buckets hanging lazily from thick trunks of old maple trees, gathering sap all day, a drop, a drop, a drop at a time.
REMEMBER, Remember, remember…The furnace still going on at night…the continued comfort of sweaters and flannel shirts….Cold , cold rain….