Friday, April 25, 2008

Country Spring

This week we are in the full blush of spring. I have been used to city springs: banks of azaleas in outrageous colors under specimen trees that bloom in glorious planned sequence from March to May, bulb gardens carefully laid out in colors and patterns that delight the asphalt-accustomed eye. Too much heat too early can bring it all on too fast; too much rain can wash it all away; a late snow can make everything look rusty. The city springs I know are fragile springs, like children of overprotecting, overcontrolling, overscheduling parents who nevertheless turn out to be nice kids--but you always wonder if they're going to make it. And then, one day the heat arrives and stays, and it's all over. I used to dread the lengthening of the days beause every longer day brought us closer to the heat and humidity of summer that would force us inside into the air conditioning. And much as I loved the technicolors of spring, the season was bittersweet, the beauty and color way stations on the road to mosquito summer.

Of course I have not yet lived through the transition from spring to summer here, but what I can tell you is that this morning on the last bit of paved road before the path down the hill to our house I counted 14 different varieties of wildflowers. Full disclosure: I'm including iris in that count, as well as dandelions. The dandelions because this version stands a foot tall, comes with five or six flowers on a stem, and grows in clusters by the dozen. So you see them and instead of thinking: WEED! you think: oh, look at all the yellow. And the iris aren't wildflowers, of course--except that here they just about seem to be. There are clusters of iris along every road I travel. The deep purple ones are finishing off now, and taller, skinnier, lavender ones are opening. It looks as though a French Johnny Appleseed must have wandered the countryside tossing down rhizomes years ago, and they have spread and spread. And with the iris and the dandelions, a host of other blue and white and red and pink blossoms, each one more spontaneous and delicate and uncultivated and indestructible than the last.

Then there are poppies everywhere, along roadsides, in fields, growing on top of the stone walls. Monet and his poppy field? He was just painting what he saw. Up in the village, snapdragons and tiny camomile daisies are growing out of the walls--and no one planted those flowers; they are just there. It's where they belong. All of the maisons de village have terracotta pots by the dozen in windowsills and on stoops, and they are overflowing with geraniums, jasmine, African daisies, nasturtiums, roses, dianthus. Pass a walled garden in the village and you are suddenly awash in the smells of lilacs and wisteria. C and I took a walk one evening and found a spot up the lane where a pink jasmine was climbing over an ivy-webbed wall, and fighting for space with a rose covered with thimble-sized yellow blossoms that was, in turn, anchoring on a tree blooming mauve. We just stood and looked.

I find myself doing a lot of standing and looking, or sometimes sitting and looking. There's a stone bench in the village that faces out across the valley towards the sea, and the other morning the dogs and I sat there and looked for a while at the overflowing flowerpots, and at all the colors of green and yellow between us and the coast. Then I was distracted by the swallows diving in the air above us: they are on their way north for the summer and have stopped in with us this week. A friend told me that swallows never stop moving; they even sleep on the wing. I am glad to stop and look. Summer is on its way, and I'm going to plant some tomatoes, and G and I have plans for a herb garden. Also maybe some canteloupes. I know there is heat coming, but we have outflown the clouds of mosquitoes.

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