(HOST) Commentator Tom Slayton has been watching the early signs of spring in Vermont – and they remind him of another early spring, several hundred years ago.
(SLAYTON) It is a cold April day of misty rain, the kind of day that 19th century authors used to call “mizzling.” This is not one of the the chipper little April showers of the song, but a chilly, gray drizzle. Some Vermonters like to quote T.S. Eliot about April being “the cruelest month,” and in Vermont it can be.
But my favorite bit of spring poetry comes from an earlier poet – about six hundred years earlier. Geoffrey Chaucer wrote this about April:
“Whan that Aprill with his shoures sote
The droghte of March hath perced to the rote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour….”
No translation of these lines into modern English is completely satisfactory, but Neville Coghill comes pretty close to Chaucer’s meaning:
“When in April the sweet showers fall
And pierce the drought of March to the root,
and all the veins are bathed in liquor of such power
As brings about the engendering of the flower…”
At such a time, Chaucer says, when the warm winds of spring have brought life back to the land, and birds begin to sing, people like to get out and go on pilgrimages. He made it obvious that, while his pilgrims were headed toward Canterbury to visit the shrine of Thomas A’ Becket, their motives were not always purely religious. Many of them simply wanted to get outside for a trip in the fresh spring air. Not all that different, really, from us today.
Chaucer obviously loved the early spring, as do many Vermonters. And I, too, love the way the April rains have made my lawn green, the way they bring the peepers out, and the tiny red leaflets on every branch of my gnarly old crab tree.
Tourists hardly ever come to Vermont in the spring, which is just fine. You can’t really appreciate a Vermont spring unless you experience a Vermont winter.
And so I was thinking the other day, What if there were no Vermont winters any more? Global climate change has, after all, shortened our winters here by two or three weeks already, and is melting glaciers worldwide, even destroying the polar ice caps. What if Vermont winters just went away? Would we still get excited about spring?
No heavy snows, no sub-zero freezes, no maple syrup, no mud season, no spring peepers in the bog – the natural rhythyms of the year completely changed.
Would we still know – in our hearts – the happiness that Chaucer and his pilgrims knew six hundred years ago?
I have friends who went to Arizona for a few years. They loved the year-round sun, they said. But they moved back to Vermont, because they missed the seasons.
For all the difficulties of winter and the misery of April rains, something ancient in our blood hews to the rythyms of nature, and responds. We have a deep need for the seasonal round we once thought was eternal.
So I’m not taking spring for granted this year. I’m going on a pilgrimage to listen to the peepers, and savor as much spring as I can – while I can.
Tom Slayton is the editor of Vermont Life magazine.