It’s still February, but on Saturday we were given a glimpse of spring here in the improbably rural ambiance of a ninth floor terrace in Brooklyn Heights, across the East River from Wall Street. Already for a few days, a mourning dove had been cooing its penetrating call. The temperature reached near sixty. As I lightly pruned the lavender, it gave off a stronger scent than it had since we planted it last year. The days that bring the first hints of spring soften the jagged edges of winter introspection and hold out the promise of better things just around the corner.
Sunday turned cooler and gray, and I thought how the sublimity Wordsworth celebrated in nature is a selective perception. While animals are looking beautiful and birds are singing away, they aren’t looking beautiful or singing for our contemplation. If they catch me noticing, they vanish or shut up. More distressing, nature’s beauty hides in plain sight wholesale slaughter. When the charming animals and tuneful birds aren’t seducing each other, they’re killing worms, insects, just-hatched chicks and even each other. The military phrase “spring offensive” popped into my head.
Emotionally, springtime violence, whether manmade or nature’s own, makes no sense. On a balmy day, I’m content to feel the breeze that caresses my skin. I am without ambition.
It’s a good thing the serenity of spring doesn’t make everyone indolent. We couldn’t afford to have farmers opting for the hammock instead of getting on with planting.
Still, by the time flowers are in full bloom, I expect I’ll be seized with spring fever, that potent mixture of amorous desire, fresh receptivity to art’s tonal colors, and the urge to get out and about. With deceptive mimicry the mocking bird will reclaim his territory, the faux-innocent robin will perch again on the roof above and to my left, and crows will be keeping their harsh vigil. Elsewhere in the country, there will be heavy rain and floods—the torrents of spring. If the past is anything to go by, I’ll be haunted by knowing that some people somewhere are making more of the season than I am.
Is it such envy that makes ambitious leaders restless in spring? Adolf Hitler cast his thoughts across the Rhine and told himself, how unfair that those French have Paris to themselves. He seized it in June.
Children in my generation spoke casually about that war, but I thought we ought to remember and even try to feel the suffering of the people who endured so much. Later, I came to appreciate that each generation, like each individual, needs to live their own lives, make their own mistakes, endure their particular tragedies, enjoy their distinctive happiness. They had Sinatra and we had the Beatles. They wore hats and we didn’t.
The war that came to my generation was Vietnam, but my year was the last of inductees, and even then only 646 were selected. It hardly touched me, and those it did ensnare kept quiet for a long time because few were willing to listen. But in a welcome development, they’ve talked a lot more in recent decades, as once silent World War II survivors also have.
With war intruding on my reverie, I thought how people are suffering today in the early spring of Syria and so many other places. My good fortune seemed so unfair that I wanted to resist spring’s seductions. But all I could do was project my thoughts four, five, six thousand miles and tell them I’m so sorry for what they are going through. Call it a prayer, if you like, a plea that at long last peace and kindness replace violence and cruelty, a plea that nature itself says is vain.
The sun came back out on Monday. Birds I took to be finches were chattering away to each other. I returned to the lavender, trimmed one or two weak stems I’d missed earlier, and once again took delight in the scent and the winter-remnant breeze promising even softer caresses to come.