Although lawns and gardens are greening in the finally sunny aftermath of last week’s rainy nor’easter, the woods here in southwestern New Hampshire are still denuded and gray. In a few weeks, the first new beech leaves will unwrap from their scaly buds, but in the meantime, the only leaves that remain on Beech Hill are desiccated skeletons from last year.
Spring in New England is a time of feast or famine, a season for jumping out of the frying pan and into the fryer. Last week, days of incessant rain brought floods threatened and actual; today, my email inbox contains warnings about fire weather. How is it that woods that were as soggy as soaked sponges now pose a fire risk less than a week after the rain stopped? Apparently a drastic drop in humidity has sucked the moisture from last year’s leaves and leaf litter, leaving woods carpeted in kindling even as wood frogs quack from vernal pools and muddy trails make dog-walking particularly problematic.
It would be nice, I think, to enjoy a week or more without the threat of natural disaster: why must we go directly from tales of Noachian deluge to threats of woodland conflagration? To me, the dry leaves that cling to Beech Hill boughs are more than fuel for Mother Nature’s tinderbox; they are a worn and tattered reminder of future hopes. The leaves that were so tender last May are now dead and dried to a crisp; they’re all we have to cling to while we wait for this year’s crop of fresh, furred, and newly chlorophyll-filled greenies to unfurl from dead-looking twigs.
They say that hope springs eternal, and so too does spring. Less than a week since I’d given up hope that the days would lengthen and grow warm, I’m barefoot and in short-sleeves, wearing cropped pants on an 80-degree day. Is this, I try to remember, how past springs have sprung, going almost instantaneously from winter to summer with nary a pause in between? Spring’s a thing, I think, that typically hits me by surprise, arriving right at the point each Spring Semester when I’m the most distracted by work, and the most wanting to be distracted by anything-but.
On Thursday, my afternoon Expository Writing students barely had to beg to convince me to hold class outside. I more than any of them, I think, was loathe to teach inside a windowless basement classroom on a day when everyone else, it seemed, was outside sunning, tossing frisbees, and otherwise lounging on the campus quad. In a region where school is occasionally closed because of inclement weather, why not cancel classes when the weather’s simply too good to stay inside?
I don’t, alas, have the authority to call a campus-wide Sun Day, but I can cling to the hope that the sun and spring are here to stay while the school year’s days are numbered.