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A Little Lightness In Heavy Times

Updated: Apr 28

March comes in like a lion, except when it comes in like a lamb. Or when it comes in like a chorus, a symphony and an exquisitely choreographed ballet all at once, a performance so breathtaking it could not possibly be replicated and yet is replicated anyway, day after day after day.

Cue the waking insects stirring in the leaf litter. Cue the flashing bluebirds swooping from the bare maple branches to glean the insects stirring in the leaf litter. Cue the fox in his magnificent coat shining in the moonlight, his ears pricked, his tailed curled perfectly around his beautiful fox feet. Cue the hard brown buds, waiting, waiting, all through winter but just beginning to quiver. Any day now — any day! — they will warm into blossom.

We don’t deserve a March like this. We have tortured the earth so thoroughly and for so long that we deserve only the hungry lions of March. We are having the exquisite sort of March anyway. I glory in every tiny, iridescent green bee waking to feed on the first vanishing bloodroot flower, the first ephemeral spring beauty, the first woodland violet and cutleaf toothwort. Soon there will be trilliums and trout lilies, too. Any day now, toadshade trilliums and trout lilies!

If you tell me I don’t deserve this joy, you are telling me nothing I don’t already know. The world is on fire, and I’m the one who struck the first match. I did it, and you did it. From the very first hominid to rise up on bare feet and stumble across a field of blooming grass, we have all been burning it down. We are burning it down still, to this very day, to this very hour.

I am in love with the mild light of springtime even so. I am in love with the shivering joy of springtime and all the beguiling creatures of springtime.

Come to the woods and stand with me in the sunshine beneath the trees. Watch the bluebirds diving for insects. Watch them peeking into the nest holes the woodpeckers carved out years ago. Listen to the cry of the woodpeckers deep in the echoing woods. Let it lift your heart. Let it still your busy hands and feet, and let it still your worried mind. Listen with everything you are.

With all you are, listen for the hum and quiver of the waking world. The upland chorus frogs are singing. It is a song of full-throated promise.

It’s beginning again. It’s all beginning again.

It’s true that most of what is greening up in the Southern woods right now isn’t native to the American South. March is a stark reminder of how thoroughly invasive plants imported from Europe and Asia have escaped their gardens and taken over the surrounding fields and forests. Sap is rising in the canes of Japanese honeysuckle, and sap is rising in the branches of Bradford pear trees. While our native maples and oaks are still sleeping, and the poison ivy vines that coil around them, too, the invasive vinca vines in the understory are waking up into greenness. I can hardly help greeting them with joy.

I refuse to quell this joy. It’s possible to understand what invasive species are doing to the woods and still feel the leaping heart of joy in greenness. It’s entirely possible to understand what human beings are doing to the woods — and to one another in this moment of dread and grief and terrible struggle — and still exult in birdsong and tiny blooming flowers peeking out from the dead leaves of autumn. In this troubled world, it would be a crime to snuff out any flicker of happiness that somehow leaps into life.

We are creatures built for joy. At the very saddest funerals, we can hear a funny story about our lost beloved, and God help us, we laugh. We can stagger out of an appointment where a person in a white coat has given us the news we think we cannot bear to hear, and still we smile at the baby in the checkout line clapping her chubby hands at the balloons by the cash register or kicking her feet in joy at a stranger’s smile.

This is who we are. The very best of who we are.

The world is burning, and there is no time to put down the water buckets. For just an hour, put down the water buckets anyway. Take your cue from the bluebirds, who have no faith in the future but who build the future nevertheless, leaf by leaf and straw by straw, shaping them and turning them into a sheltering roundness perfectly fitted to the contours of the future they are making.

Turn your face up to the sky. Listen. The world is shivering into possibility. The world is reminding us that this is what the world does best. New life. Rebirth. The greenness that rises out of ashes.

Shared (without permission, but I suspect she'll forgive me) from Nashville-based essayist and author, Margaret Renkl.

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