Into the woods

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(Host) Commentator Tom Slayton celebrates spring in Vermont and reveals a secret for making the season last just a little bit longer.

(Slayton) These earliest days of true spring are so fleeting, they give me a real sense of urgency about getting out and into the woods before the leaves fill out and the shad blossoms begin to fade and drop.

Now, for a week or so, the forest is an essay in delicacy – lacelike scrims of new translucent leaves in a dozen pale shades of green, yellow, and even pink. For a few days, the trees wear pastel echoes of the brighter colors they’ll take on in fall and, interspersed with the small white blossoms of apple, shad, wild plum and wild cherry, they fill the woods with exuberance.

The forest looks fragile now but this is a complete illusion. There is nothing more resilient – more powerful, really – than the annual springtime resurgence of life – which may be one reason this passing show appeals to me more and more as I get older.

I’m far from alone in this. Northern winters like the one just past are so hard, it’s no wonder we treasure northern springs. Poets have been celebrating them for millenia – even before Geoffrey Chaucer traveled to Canterbury amidst the sweet showers and singing birds of an English spring. Vermont poet Robert Frost obviously loved this time of year and wrote a characteristically bittersweet tribute to the lacy gold foliage of early spring.

Nature’s first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold
Her early leaf’s a flower,
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden came to grief
So dawn comes down to day;
Nothing gold can stay.

The poem’s genius lies in the complexity of feeling Frost packs into its eight short lines. Not only will the transient beauty of the first leaves “not stay,” they become emblems of loss – the loss of innocence, first love, dawn’s beauty – even The Garden of Eden’s pristine goodness.

Behind the shimmering beauty of the leaves lies a world that slips away from us, and hints at change, the coming of winter. We are flawed, says the poem; we die – even the new leaves tell us that.

Well, I know how Frost felt, and Chaucer too. This time of year is just too short. Memorial Day, formerly Decoration day, comes along now for a different reason, but walking in the beauty of the woods is at least for me, as apt a way of remembering those I’ve lost as a trip to the cemetery.

When I find myself wishing this time could last just a little longer, I know that there’s at least a partial remedy. Since we live in a mountainous state, we can pull on our hiking boots and follow the green leaves of early spring as they climb the mountainside, pushing ourselves back and up into the delicate beauty of early spring by a simple gain in altitude.

It’s one of the rewards of hiking at this time of year, and a1lows us to prolong our most fragile and evasive season, to savor the new leaves and the blossoms, for just a few more days.

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