Years ago I heard some local wit describe spring on Cape Cod as “an undetermined Tuesday in June.” An exaggeration, of course, but it expresses the unpredictability of that season here, especially this year, when a major blizzard hit us nearly a week after the vernal equinox. Nonetheless, the first week of May is what I call “High Spring” here on the Cape. It is the week when, whatever meteorological vicissitudes precede it, the season irrevocably breaks upon us in full force.
The other day, after voting at the Council on Aging building, I ran into my friend Helen getting out of her car. She had an odd, dreamy expression on her face. “What’s up?” I inquired.
“Oh, everything is! – everything! – blossoming! It’s all too much! My mind is fudged!”
Well, no, she didn’t say “fudged.” She dropped the F-word.
I was somewhat startled, not by her language – Helen can be spontaneously coarse when she has a mind to be – but by the precision of her expression. For I suddenly realized that that is exactly what happens when spring assaults us and we surrender to it. Our brains are - “fudged,” in the same way that physical love-making gets us out of our heads and into our bodies. It both dissolves and reconstructs us, leaving us at once ravished and grounded.
In his essay “The Tree,” the writer John Fowles describes this experience - what he calls the “green chaos” of nature - and its salutary effect on us. “There is something” he writes, ”in the nature of nature, in its presentness, its seeming transience, its creative ferment and hidden potential, that corresponds very closely with the wild, or green man, in our psyches. The “green chaos,” in Fowles terms, represents our psychological desire for naked, unedited, animalistic contact with the natural world, our need for nature to undo us, to ravish our minds and bring us to climax.
And it is spring that most does this to us precisely because it is all too much at once. Everything explodes during High Spring week. A new season is ushered in on waves of soft, bugless air from the south. Leaves bubble at the brink, ready to gush out. Shad, cottonwoods, beach plums, and lilacs all burst out in blossom. Every oak crown has become a feathery plume, dusting the soft stars overhead. The peeper choruses swell up out of the bogs and whippoorwills crack their sharp calls from the dark hillsides. From hidden fields come the spaced, buzz-like calls of moonstruck woodcocks as they rise in starry spirals of courtship flight. Over the burgeoning treetops the toads begin their dry, toneless screaming.
Spring concentrates energy and passion in the individual, brings on the orgiastic self-sacrifice of the body and mind in all creatures. Henry Beston, writing of bird flocks in spring, describes this urge:
“Stirred by the vernal fire,” he writes, “a group [of birds] psychically dissolves, for every creature in a flock is intent upon the use and offering of his own awakened flesh. Even creatures who are of the flocking or herding habit emerge as individuals….The body [is] given and sacrificially broken, its own gods and all gods obeyed."
And so it is, and when the surge of the season has washed over us and we finally swim back to consciousness, exhausted and spent, we turn and smile tenderly at the world lying beside us, as if we shared some deep, sweet, intimate secret.