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Stirrings: in spring's woods, an observer is surrounded by new beginnings - and some of the best are within.

or several years a notion has been building within me. Increasingly, I sense that each spring, between the days when tree buds open and the mature leaves finally appear, a brief subdivision of spring occurs. The other day I set out to see if this mini-season really exists. If so, I thought, I should be able to document it. If not, then I will have to admit that once again I had been sent on a chase by one of life's illusions.

Even before the sun came up, I encountered a shagbark hickory's twig that seemed to have something to say. This twig's terminal bud had opened, the large inner bud scales had expanded and fallen back, and the green, velvety beginnings of leaves and stems had begun to grow skyward. A hint of warm color suff used the reflexed scales, and something dignified and good characterized the upward-reaching leaves. They looked like praying hands. Yet nothing here seemed to speak of my mini-season or the kind of lusty spring that floods forth like an avalanche.

But soon the sun came up and I watched as earlymorning sunlight caused a pignut hickory's bud to ignite and glow like embers in a breeze. While I stood there, the sun side of my own face warmed and softened. Now I was beginning to sense something profound stirring. It was the light-loving life in the trees around me.

The next tree was one of those ancient, gnarled, nononsense post oaks that remind you of a Druid hunkered defiantly on a rocky hillside. Yet a slender sprout arose from the trunk of that tree, and on that sprout hung six little leaves drooping downward, almost shyly and demurely. Yet in the sun, they seemed as young and potentially spirited as fresh-hatched chicks.

As I chuckled at the gnarled oak with its playful leaves, it occurred to me that the old oak was like a smiling Zen master urging his disciple to consider solutions for paradoxes. The tree was showing me how to be both venerable and young-simply by allowing enough light to be brought to bear....

If the old post oak was a Druid, the nearby beech was Oriental. Here were bamboo-like leaves in which sunlight highlighted rigid vein-lines and delicate origami-folded leaf margins. As in a Chinese watercolor, the bouquet's greens were brushed in with quick, sure strokes. Bringing the twig near my forehead, it seemed I could hear the old beech reciting two lines by Chu Tun-ju, a minor Chinese poet of 800 years ago:

As though playing hide-andseek with Spring,

My innermost thoughts, who can know them?

At a bend in the path, I met a red maple with expanding leaves that had been nipped by a late frost and then chewed on by a bug. Here no special geometry pleased the eye, and the leaves were bordered not in silvery sunlight but with brown, frost-caused decay. Immediately, I felt a kinship with this homely little entity, for through time 1, too, have acquired holdings of frost-killed self, and within me reside more than one analogy to a bugchewed hole. And yet, beneath the maple's expanding leaves, each tiny bud scale bore a spot of rich burgundy color; and along the inside face of the upper bud scales, tiny bubbles of transparent dew had collected during the previous night. What an ephemeral and fragile unity of art! It inspired me and caused me to think that somewhere inside me there might yet reside a splash of burgundy or a corner with translucent bubbles of dew.

At this point I considered my inquiry complete. I had shown to myself that indeed a mini-season does exist in spring and that it may be defined in terms of our trees' expanding leaves and stems and in terms of the sunlight that charges all living things with beauty and life.

A week or two after this ephemeral pre-spring had ended, I spotted some red maple leaves photosynthesizing late afternoon sunlight. Each of my mini-season encounters had shown spring struggling toward something. Confronted with this maple's essay on sunlight and shadow, I realized what that something is. It is a message that can be felt but not articulated. And I suspect that for each human the message is different. AF

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Author:Conrad, Jim
Publication:American Forests
Date:Mar 1, 1990
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