Why spring demands vigilance

First the magnolia opened behind the farmhouse; then as the pink-streaked petals began covering the drive, the trillium came into their own deep in the woods.

Just the other day the daffodils reached their zenith, tossing out a yellow so intense and unquestionably pure as to seem more a force than a color. Their only real competitors, somewhat later to bloom, are the buttercups now brightening the path to a secluded seep below the pasture. Next, the redbuds are poised to open, their tight purply buds all but humming a prelude.

The peaks come and go so quickly this time of year you have to be watching every minute or something will reach perfection without you. A hint of brown will creep along a petal's edge, a green haze will infiltrate the all-white universe of the ornamental pear. Or in some corner of the woods you'll come across wilted wildflowers that, proving the poet's point, have bloomed and faded gloriously unseen.

As winter wound down last year I went to bed one night anticipating the shift of seasons, and then haplessly dreamed that I'd woken up to the hothouse of July. I'd missed spring start to finish, the whole soft, rich extravaganza. When I came to for real, just one calendar page further into March, I could have cried with relief. It was still all to come.

And now, as it unfolds again and we move from one peak flowering to the next, I know that spring will climax one day soon. I can't tell you precisely when it will happen here in south-central Indiana - it is never the same calendar date from one year to the next - but I'll know it when I see it. The swallows will have returned to their nests in the barn, the dogwood bloomed, and the redbud greened up, their petals woven like sequins everywhere, even deep in the horses' manes. I'll be walking one day and think, "This is it." The countryside will be as brim full of spring as it can get. One more opening flower will tip the cup toward summer.

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