The first day of spring arrives in a haze of bright strong sunlight and fire. The earth seems newly awake and on the move. On our drive back from a weekend trip to New Hampshire sunlight dazzles through bare branches, strikes off granite promentories and tinsels the ice cascades along mountain passes. Blueberry fields, brush piles and meadows are burning and the combined smoke casts a Vesuvian scrim over the baby blue sky.
I am always startled by the intensity of heat in the spring. With no leaves to provide shade the sun strikes down as pale and dangerous as a blade into the dry leaves in the wood, needing only a burning glass to set the forest floor on fire. Everything seems brittle and stark; crows exult from the tops of the trees and deep in the mold, red fists of skunk cabbage thrust upward toward the warmth.
In the confusion of the sky cirrus and cumulus sail past each other and through them the pale light flattens out the perspective and shadows disappear. In yards as we drive past people lean on their rakes and turn their faces up to the sun.
Ritual burning has a distinctly pagan feel. As one old Mainer friend put it, "we burned up all that mess on the knoll". How tempting to believe that this burning harks back to the strange and scary cleansing rituals of our wilder ancestors. How nice if we could clean up the mess of our socio-political pathology so easily - a little virtual conflagration to help us start off clean.
Soon the rain will come to soften the sharp edge of this pleat that separates winter from spring. The grass will green up, crocus and daffodils will bloom and our world will rock gently to the kinder rhythms of breezes not wind; rain not snow; mud not ice; blue not gray. Through the blackened stubble lupine will emerge in elegant spires, blueberry barrens will turn copper-green, in the vernal pools frogs will commence their rock 'n roll din. And once more we'll have come through the ice and the fire into a new and gentler world.