I’ve been hearing people saying lately that Spring has arrived, as if it is a date on the calendar. Well, actually in New Zealand we do describe September 1 as the first day of Spring. Herein lies the truth, it’s the beginning of the process of unfolding and releasing the new emergent energy; it happens slowly, one day at a time. In order to notice the changes I am daily in communion with the parts of my garden that express ‘Springness’. I check the plum blossom and the foliage buds on my oak trees. In my vege garden I check the temperature of the soil. It’s still too wet and cold to plant Spring veges. I know this because my brassicas look so fine; they’re loudly expressing that Winter hasn’t fully released its grip. Which is ok too; greens are good for us & we need to eat plenty – or so I tell myself when I experience resistance to the idea. Fortunately as I stand surveying their healthy vitality I’m nourished by the beauty & elegance of the red cabbages and radicchio. Food for the soul is every bit as important. This radiant show helps remind me that the slow letting go of Winter into the quickening of Spring is inevitable and soon a different kind of expression will take the place of my gloriously ruffled radicchio. Even as I write the first plum blossoms are welcoming bees as they feverishly collect pollen to keep the hives healthy in preparation for a new seasons honey making. So much promise yet to be fulfilled.
As I write the depth of winter is upon us. Bumping into people the conversation consistently turns to the weather, the overall theme being the wrongness of it all. People don’t like winter. It goes without saying that of all the seasons it’s the ‘baddest’, the one most likely to be ostracised or deleted, should that be an option. Recently a friend shared with me her strong dislike of the bareness; it seemed as though winter had an ascetic quality which spoke of a painful lack. I responded that even though I don’t cope well with the cold (I’m definitely a hot-house flower), I’m always fascinated by the way winter strips the world to its bones, as though to make it anew. In my garden a lot more bare earth shows at this time of the year. Lichen covered branches reach skyward in architectural splendour, providing perches for the Kingfisher to spot prey and Rosellas to feast on bugs that inhabit the bark. Then there is the beauty of the bark itself; in all its myriad colours and textures it enriches the eye and the heart. Wet or cloudy days inspire me to sit beside the fire or lie in bed and contemplate; when nothing is possible outside the inner world is always available and full of possibility. I think this is the aspect of winter I enjoy the most; the emptiness that results from the leaves falling to expose endless sky, plants gone to ground for the cold patch leaving bare earth carpeted in leaf mould. All this grand spaciousness that is over-full during the fecund seasons can finally be appreciated. This is the one time of the year I can experience in my garden the same spaciousness that is the matrix of all life. Honouring the empty spaces within my garden has become a practise; it allows me to know in my deepest being the paradox of emptiness and fullness; an eternal truth expressed through all living things. As I quietly sit, listening to the silence, disinclined to action, space grows within me leaving me ready and waiting for, well, I’m really not sure. I can only surrender, feeling the connection to a primal incubation that begins in the emptiness and ends in the return of spring, overflowing with creativity. Winter is a time to nurture our creativity and we do this best by following Nature’s example. This is the greatest joy of winter, the allowing of the mystery to unfold without question. Other joys sustain us in this dark and demoralising time for winter is not entirely heartless. Monarch butterflies still flit about the garden keeping me company as they feed on the Tithonias. We have had some sunny days and the Magnolias are beginning to flower. In the emptiness their beauty stands out as an expression of grace.
Today as I listen to the rain beating out a dirge on my roof I feel no desire to go outside. There is a gloomy grey and dismal tone to the day; flowers and shrubs bend their heads forlornly. It reminds me that there once was a time when our connection to nature overshadowed all our actions. The ancient Greeks had a ritual for this time, a dromenon, in which they enacted the dance of death and rebirth. They understood that the end of winter meant not only the passing of hard times, but also the loss of many of their people. Spring came, but at a cost. Therefore they ritualised their loss so as to propitiate the spirits of their dead ancestors in order that they would protect the tribe from the spirit world. Attached to this was the celebration of the return of Spring, the possibility of new life and plenty. We live distantly from these concerns now and have become complacent about the power of Mother Nature to impact our lives so intimately. Even so, in my past work as a florist I made many wreaths for elderly townsfolk over the winter months. The winter is a time of harvest too. Looking out the rain beaded window I feel that sense of loss; the weeping heads of the flowers, the wailing of wind in the eucalypts evokes a powerful, palpable grief. It’s nothing maudlin, however, only a reminder of the need need to give thanks for what was. Out of death and decay comes new life. And so it is, that Spring reminds us that after the loss comes the celebration. As I walked around the garden a few days ago I noticed the new figs swelling on almost naked branches. Spring’s promise to us, her little joke, the fruit that is really a flower tricking us into belief in the harvest to come.