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Slayton: Blossom Time

“Blossom time,” that very early spring season when trout lilies, coltsfoot, and trilliums, red, white and showy are blooming in the woods, when recently-arrived spring warblers are flitting through the trees and vernal pools are burgeoning with new life, is my favorite time of the year.

It’s just a pity that this delicate, fragile, entirely beautiful time is so brief.

I try to get away from those allegedly adult responsibilities – computer terminals, meetings, house chores, and even the garden – whenever I can in those few weeks of April and May, and just go walking in the woods to see what I can find. There’s a certain urgency in my walks; I don’t want to miss this beautiful, brief time.

But now the delicate green lace of new leaves has climbed the hills and just about reached the mountaintops, and the transient beauty of that time of year is just ending. It will be replaced by another good time: summer – good, but less delicate, less fragile, and so, to many, less beautiful. And I have to add that the bugs are starting to bite now, and bite hard, a fact which means you either walk fast in the woods, or not at all!

But there is a consolation to the end of “blossom time,” a consolation found, ironically enough, in the season’s brevity.

Our first Vermont State Poet, Robert Frost, wrote often of spring, and saw its quick passing as a part of its beauty. “Nothing gold can stay,” he wrote, referring to the first, brightest new leaves of May. One of his loveliest lyrics, “Spring Pools,” takes in both the beauty of flowers blooming beside the little pool - “these flowery waters and these watery flowers,” and notes that both will soon be gone, as the bare-limbed trees arching overhead shade out the blossoms and drink up the pool.

And in the song of the Ovenbird – a small, ground-dwelling warbler that sings well into the summer – Frost hears that summer itself is “a diminished thing.”

Perhaps the poem that comes to me most reliably, when walking in the woods, is by the British poet, A.E. Houseman, from his early collection, “A Shropshire Lad.” It describes the “loveliest of trees,” the cherry, decked out in delicate white blossoms at about Easter time. The young poet figures he’s got about 50 years left to live, then concludes:

  And since to look at things in bloom,
  Fifty springs is little room
  About the woodland I will go,
  To see the cherry hung with snow.

Brief, lyrical, and to the point – the ephemeral nature of the flowers – of the season itself – enhances the beauty of both, and reminds us that our lives are also brief, that nothing is permanent, but that impermanence itself can equal beauty, perhaps, given the short time we all have to savor spring, even enhance it.

Tom Slayton is a longtime journalist, editor and author who lives in Montpelier.
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