Spring, the Resurrection Time
James J. Kilpatrick
Springs are not always the same. In some years, April bursts upon our Virginia hills in one prodigious leap – and all the stage is filled at once, whole choruses of tulips, arabesques of forsythia, cadenzas of flowering plum. The trees grow leaves overnight.
In other years, spring tiptoes in. It pauses, overcome by shyness, like my grandchild at the door, peeping in, ducking out of sight, giggling in the hallway. “I know you’re out there,” I cry. “Come in!” And April slips into our arms.
The dogwood bud, pale green, is inlaid with russet markings. Within the perfect cup a score of clustered seeds are nestled. One examines the bud in awe: Where were those seeds a month ago? The apples display their milliner’s scraps of ivory silk, rose-tinged. All the sleeping things wake up – primrose, baby iris, blue phlox. The earth warms – you can smell it, feel it, crumble April in your hands.
The dark Blue Ridge Mountains in which I dwell, great-hipped, big-breasted, slumber on the western sky. And then they stretch and gradually awaken. A warm wind, soft as a girl’s hair, moves sailboat clouds in gentle skies. The rains come – good rains to sleep by – and fields that were dun as oatmeal turn to pale green, then to kelly green.
All this reminds me of a theme that runs through my head like a line of music. Its message is profoundly simple, and profoundly mysterious also: Life goes on. That is all there is to it. Everything that is, was; and everything that is, will be.
I am a newspaperman, not a preacher. I am embarrassed to write of “God’s presence.” God is off my beat. But one afternoon I was walking across the yard and stopped to pick up an acorn-one acorn, nut brown, glossy, cool to the touch; the crested top was milled and knurled like the knob on a safe. There was nothing unique about it. Thousands littered the grass.
I could not tell you what Saul of Tarsus encountered on that famous road to Damascus when the light shone suddenly around him, but I know what he left. He was trembling, and filled with astonishment, and so was I that afternoon. The great chestnut oak that towered above me had sprung from such an insignificant thing as this; and the oak contained within itself the generating power to seed whole forests. All was locked in this tiny, ingenious safe – the mystery, the glory, the grand design.
The overwhelming moment passed, but it returns. Once in February we were down on the hillside pulling up briars and honeysuckle roots. I dug with my hands through rotted leaves and crumbling moldy bark. And behold: at the bottom of the dead, decaying mass a wild rhizome was raising a green, impertinent shaft toward the unseen winter sun. I am not saying I found Divine Revelation. What I found, I think, was a wild iris.
The iris was doing something more than surviving. It was growing, exactly according to plan, responding to rhythms and forces that were old before man was young. And it was drawing its life from the dead leaves of long-gone winters. I covered this unquenchable rhizome, patted it with a spade, and told it to be patient: spring would come.
And that is part of this same, unremarkable theme: spring does come. In the garden the rue anemones come marching out, bright as toy soldiers on their parapets of stone. The dogwoods float in casual clouds among the hills.
This is the Resurrection time. That which was dead, or so it seemed, has come to life again – the stiff branch, supple; the brown earth, green. This is the miracle: There is no death; there is in truth eternal life.
These are lofty themes for a newspaperman. I cover politics, not ontology. But it is not required that one be learned in metaphysics to contemplate a pea patch. A rudimentary mastery of a shovel will suffice. So, in the spring, we plunge shovels into the garden plot, turn under the dark compost, rake fine the crumbling clods, and press the inert seeds into orderly rows. These are the commonest routines. Who could find excitement here?
But look! The rain falls, and the sun warms, and something happens. It is the germination process. Germ of what? Germ of life, germ inexplicable, germ of wonder. The dry seed ruptures and the green leaf uncurls. Here is a message that transcends the rites of any church or creed or organized religion. I would challenge any doubting Thomas in my pea patch.
A year or so ago, succumbing to the lures of a garden catalogue, we went grandly into heather. Over the winter it looked as though the grand investment had become a grand disaster. Nothing in the garden seemed deader than the heather. But now the tips are emerald, and the plants are coronets for fairy queens.
Everywhere, spring brings the blessed reassurance that life goes on, that death is no more than a passing season. The plan never falters; the design never changes. It is all ordered. It has all been always ordered.
Look to the rue anemone, if you will, or to the pea patch, or to the stubborn weed that thrusts its shoulders through a city street. This is how it was, is now, and ever shall be, the world without end. In the serene certainty of spring recurring, who can fear the distant fall?