June again. Spring has sprung (despite its late arrival this year) and is rapidly springing into summer. After the bleak greys and whites (yes, there probably are fifty words for snow) and long hours of darkness of an Ontario winter, what strikes me most about Spring is its abundance of colour — sunny yellow daffodils and forsythia, deep red tulips,flowering trees in all their delicate pinks, crimsons, light and dark purples. Above all, the many, many shades of green. Fifty shades of green to play on the title of a famous best-seller. And there is a deeper connection here. Gardens, meadows, and woodlands are the life-force of nature, Mother Nature’s erotica and birthing-room. Birds and bees and blossoming. In Dylan Thomas’s words, “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower.” And Robert Frost wrote, “Nature’s first green is gold”– referring to the yellow or golden early leaf-buds, looking like tiny flowers. In college, our freshman English teacher asked the students to learn this 8-line poem, “Nothing Gold Can Stay,”while walking around the the campus lake. I did this (perhaps one of the few who did); having grown up in a city, I had never really looked closely at leaves, moss, humus and dirt. I know the poem by heart, to this day. Green is a colour of both serenity and energy. Green lights mean GO, and the root (a nice pun!) of the word “green” is akin to “grow” and “grass.” We also, of course, talk about the “green-eyed monster” of jealousy, and being green with illness — just to show that language, like emotion, is complex and ambivalent.
Relaxing and working in the garden, walking along streets with trees in full leaf, or walking through the woods listening to birds — even a place as near to Hamilton as Royal Botannical Gardens and Cootes Paradise — you feel wonder, delight, a sense of peace and that “all’s right with the world,” despite personal tragedies, political absurdities, and global violence. The cycle keeps recurring: spring follows winter, summer follows spring, fall follows summer, then back to winter, and then spring again.
Recently, in the Anne Szumigalski lecture at the AGM of the League of Canadian Poets, A.F. Moritz talked about the beauty of the garden as a way of talking about the beauty in poetry. In both, the beauty is in the sense-experience of the moment (light and colour, sound, fragrance), and in the continuing energy of change — seed or bulb becoming stem becoming flower becoming fruit becoming seed, and fallen leaves. His talk led me to think about Marianne Moore’s famous quote, “Poetry is an imaginary garden with real toads in it.” Not just real flowers, but real toads that hop and flick their tongues and catch flies. The unexpected, not the traditionally “beautiful.” I also thought of Japanese gardens, and the story about a monk who tending the monastery garden. He cleaned the flower beds, cut the grass, arranged the stones, raked all the leaves until nothing was out of place. He showed his work to the head monk with a touch of pride — it was perfect. The head monk nodded, smiled, then went to a big tree and shook its branches until green leaves scattered at random over the grass. ”There,” he said. “Now it is perfect.”
Yet this brings me to the irony of green, one of the reasons I wanted to write this post. In Ontario (and many places throughout the world) we spend the months of winter and early spring (this year, even into late April!) longing for green and growing. The first green shoots and leaves are welcomed, we celebrate the green lawns, growing flowers, leafy canopies of trees. And then the abundance overflows. The grass is too long, those few sprigs of lemon balm are now taking over the garden, lovely violets and their leaves are choking the roses, weeds are crowding the tomatoes, that creeping ground-cover is creeping all over the backyard, thick stalks of some bamboo-like tree are creating a forest in the cracks of pavement by the garage, the lilacs have hardly bloomed when they need cutting back, my neighbour’s Manitoba maple clambers over my fence (its leaves a delicatessen for insects), Rose of Sharon seedlings and day-lilies are spreading everywhere. Mow, prune, pull, weed. Weed, pull, prune, mow. Lawn bags are filled to the brim with our lovely — but now unwanted — green plants. We could let it all go — and grow — and the yard would turn into chaos. For myself, I try to keep things neat, and not have the plants I really want crowded out by others — but I also keep the patches of forget-me-nots, the flowers that have seeded themselves (a cluster of purple, white, and yellow miniature pansies are this year’s wild beauty), and places where a bit of mystery can happen.
Order in chaos, chaos in order, the vitality (sexual, nurturing, humming) that flows through all of life, including us. Remember that photosynthesis — through which the chlorophyll in green leaves uses sunshine to make food — takes in carbon dioxide and gives off oxygen, making it possible for all animal life, including us, to breathe. Fifty shades of green seems a much better colour for this force than grey. And probably there are 51, or 62, or 103 — an infinite variety. ”Glory be to God for dappled things.”