The second line of Lawrence Durrell’s novel “Justine” reads as follows: “In the midst of winter you can feel the inventions of Spring.” I first read all four novels of his magnificent Alexandria Quartet during the year I traveled from Saigon to Paris after working in Vietnam for a refugee organization for several years.
Few works of fiction have had the enduring impact on my life as these novels have, so it was with a great deal of anticipation that I started re-reading the quartet a few weeks ago. I have not been disappointed. In fact, this rereading has been every bit as profoundly moving as was the case forty years ago. Now that I am quite a bit older I expect that I will appreciate each novel’s provocative insights into the human condition even more acutely. But, for now I want to concentrate on the narrator’s observations about spring’s inventiveness, something that has been on my mind ever since winter saw fit to start easing on out of our lives for a while.
Once winter starts giving up the ghost, which it does in fits and starts, some sort of internal transition mechanism stirs within us and we too begin shifting gears. If you are like me, you feel a rather insistent internal restlessness that can only be assuaged when spring asserts itself and gets in the swing of its eternal rhythms once again. The feelings of hope and rejuvenation that we feel are part and parcel of the reassuring predictability that nature affords us.
Once spring’s rains green the earth up a bit, accompanied by longer and warmer days, we can start keeping an eye out for the myriad inventions that spring dazzles us with year after year after year.
While some disparage predictability, I see it as among life’s most comforting gifts. We do not want every aspect of our daily lives to be predictable, but some degree of certainty about things buoys us for those existential surprises that might otherwise upend us. Existential anarchy is a tasty abstraction that undermines creativity and, to a certain extent, freedom.
Among spring’s inventions that energize me the most are bluebirds, tree swallows, andgeese. Until they return it is impossible for me to experience genuine spring thoughts or feelings. Nature is the primary inventor of all things, so I see my avian friends as part of an infinite sub-set of phenomena that are part of a cosmic package of boundless energy and variety.
The heat wave of a few weeks ago, followed by a week or so of nightly freeze and frost warnings, certainly put the kibosh on things, but such erratic behavior is as predictable, and as exasperating, as any other of nature’s quirky shenanigans. The warm weather of the last several days has given birth to the early spring patterns up here on the hill that provide us with feelings of joy and hope. Don and Dora, the pair of geese that have raised their young just down the road from us returned a short time ago and are busy nesting and readying themselves for that most rewarding of all gigs, raising their young. As is the case every early spring, the bluebirds check us out for a few days, disappear, and then return just about the time every year I have started to give up hope. As I write, a pair of bluebirds is defending their accustomed nest box from the tree swallows that have taken up residence in the two boxes closest to the house. As is the case on our world, location is everything. Neither tree swallows nor bluebirds need worry themselves over affordable housing or plunging home prices. We provide more than adequate lodging, which we are happy to do because the return on such a modest investment is a summer of joy whose value is of incalculable worth. The allure of nature’s eternal patterns is that they are always the same and yet different.
We ignore nature’s health and well being at our peril. Its inventiveness is the key to living sustainable lives.
MORE OF RICHARD DEROSA’S writing can be seen at his blog: rjderosa. com. Comments are welcome.