Sunday, March 27, 2011


Yesterday I spent an hour or so with a friend who has been sick most of the winter. Cold after cold have made her tired and fretful; her latest bout with bronchitis left her depressed and debilitated. But our conversation was pleasant and I left her believing that she was finally on the mend. On the way home over potholes and frost heaves, I realized that we are all more or less in a state of convalescence after a winter of endless snowstorms, ice, frost, cold and mud. Our cars are battered and dirty, our floors are tracked with gravely boot prints, our gloves are missing, our animals are stir crazy, and our tempers are thin.

The week we had of spring-like weather teased us out of doors into yards where melting snow revealed the detritus of the season past - discarded Christmas trees, layers of birdseed under the feeders, bits of plastic and paper frozen to the ground and twigs, branches, leaves, cones, and bark shorn from the trees in wintery blasts off the ocean.

Today I raked the flower beds revealing crocuses, scilla, little red fists of rhubarb, pale fingers of daffodils and iris. The warm day brought out swarms of insects and the earth softened in the sun. I took my lunch outside and sat in the sun trap in a corner of the house, turned up my face to the sky and pretended it was June.

The spring that I was three, my father was diagnosed with tuberculosis, a disease he probably picked up while serving in the Marines during World War II. He was sent to a sanatorium to recuperate. The hospital was not far from where we lived with my grandparents, but it was long enough for me to fall asleep on the way there and I would emerge from my uncle's car rubbing my eyes and cranky.

My father and his fellow sufferers, most of them also veterans, lived in a kind of barracks, unheated and bare bones, in the midst of what must have at one time been an arboretum, filled by then with overgrown cedar trees. We weren't allowed inside but my father could come out and visit with us in a patio area filled with benches and Adirondack chairs. It was the fashion then to dress little girls in cotton dresses year round. My little woolen Best & Company coat kept my arms and torso warm but my bare legs were always cold and I wanted to be indoors. To warm me up, and to provide my parents with some quiet time together, my uncle and grandmother would take me for a walk among the trees and it is the memory of those trees that comes back to me on thin spring days like this one.

There must have been quite a variety of cedars in that parklike place, but I loved the golden ones the best. I called them fairy trees and would make my uncle and grandmother join hands with me and dance around them just like the illustration on the cover of my picture book of Hans Christian Anderson's "The Little Fir Tree". When we all tired of the game, they would go off to sit with my mother and father and I would wander alone through that miniature forest, brushing the trees with my hands and telling myself stories, hunting for treasures - pinecones, feathers, pretty stones - under the fluffy branches, and feeling the spring sun on my head and shoulders.

After months of austere living, cold baths and colder nights on outdoor sleeping porches - the protocol then for the tubercular - my father came home cured. I don't know if I regretted the loss of my fairy forest or if I even realized I would never go back there except in memory. But in memory I can feel the warmth of that quiet enclosed space and see the sun on golden branches.

Along our road the pussy willows are silvery against the sky. The woodcock and killdeer are courting in the woods. At night the moon is a white disk, un-haloed and bright. There is a softness to the silhouettes of the trees and the alders are reddening. The roads will flatten out, the ice will leave the lakes and streams, the deer will leave the fastness of the woods and venture down to the ocean again and the lengthening days lift our mood, inspire garden dreams, give us hope, make us well.