Seeing the Land: Past, Present, and Future

May 22, 2018

Credit L. Lerner

The other evening I went for a walk on Bound Brook Island and was struck by it all – not just by what was there, but by what had passed, and what was yet to come. 

The low white clouds of beach plum earlier this month had turned blowsy and light-brown. The daffodils and forsythia had had their early notoriety, like the New Hampshire primary, and were now curled up and crinkly. The gush of the shad blossoms a few weeks earlier has subsided, but the wild apples and pear trees bordering the swamps and the older roads are thick with creamy blossoms. The miniature, glowing, crimson, downward-pointing flowers of the huckleberry hang at their appointed height above the forest floor. The easily excitable imported plants have been hastened by the warm sunny weather, so that lilacs, and even wisteria, have enrich the week with their showy blossoms. The curved, sheathed stems of the lady slippers are lifting and uncurling themselves like the heads of swans lifting from their nest. The red maples trumpet their name with clusters of bright red seed packets hanging like grapes from their red twigs, and each emerging embryonic oak leaf is a red velvet glove with a little golden red tassel hanging from it.

 

So I see, past and present, what was and what is there. But I am equally aware of what has not yet emerged. The young spears of the black cherry leaves are out, but their blossoms are still to come. The pitch pines are cloudy with glowing yellow stalks of pollen not yet spread across the land. In the gauzy grass beneath the pines the thin rosettes of starflower leaves have yet to release their white stars; and the black locusts, last of our trees to leave out, have not yet dropped their sweet, honey-flavored blossoms onto the roads, drawing crows to the feast. 

 

And, threaded through it all, is the procession of mid-May warblers, arriving like visions of grace just before we go blind. There is a pair of yellow warblers nesting in the lilac hedges in front of our neighbor’s house. The blood-red streaks on the male’s golden yellow breasts hint at mythical violence. 

 

As I bathe in the loveliness of what is gone, what is present, and what is yet to come, I realize that the pleasures of a well-thumbed landscape are akin to that of reading a familiar and beloved poem. As we read such a poem for the umpteenth time, the pleasure of each line is enhanced not only by our memory of what we have already read, but by our anticipation of the lines we know are yet to come. 

 

So it is with a familiar and well-loved landscape. The richness of May is enhanced by our memory of what has preceded it in April and also by the invisible promise of what is yet to come in June. It holds, not only what is present, but what is past and future as well – it is the crest from which we see the circle of the year.