Out Divine Corners Way
by Jonathan Shimkin
March is a see-saw month, swinging between seasons. One can take its measure by walking the Milk Train Trail in Hurleyville, heading east. In late March the trail is dry and clear on the straightaway past the pond, right up to the turn that takes you into the Smith Hill rock cut. The cut, the signage tells us, has an “ambient temperature perceptibly colder than anywhere else in the vicinity,” and when you cross the threshold you’re back in winter, clomping over a thick crust of snow and ice made extra slippery by a thin overlay of melt. The snow follows the curving contour of the trail through the rocks, till you emerge on the other side, where it’s clear dry ground again, straight through the woods to Westwood Drive. The seasons appear to have reached an agreement as to which spaces they’ll inhabit: it’s spring fore and aft and, in between, that wide arc of snow, like a fading smile of winter itself.
This toggle rhythm is current in many quarters. We’re in the second spring of the pandemic. As dire as it has been, there’s more of hope and less of dread than the first time around, when uncertainty and opacity ruled. Percentiles of public spaces open up in measured increments, luring one to dine out or go the movies. The vaccine tap opens wider every week, and hope for containment of the virus dilates with it. Respect for science is reestablished in the White House and one can begin to imagine a day when the stringent measures to which we’ve grown accustomed (or not) will no longer be necessary.
On the other hand (there’s always another hand), the CDC’s Director announced feelings of “impending doom.” The graphs tracking the numbers tell the same story we’ve been hearing all year: claim a premature victory over the virus and you risk a Pyrrhic one. These see-saw rhythms can intensify to a kind of moral whiplash, poised as we are between the promise of change and the mulish intractability of things. One looks for some accommodation between the extremes, between where we wish to be and where we actually are, something to ease the strain of the many competing claims and narratives.
The great spring holidays wheel round and lend weight to the hopeful side of the scales. The weather does its best to oblige, winter succumbing to spring in piecemeal fashion. The warming water of our lakes (Sheldrake, Echo, Morningside) break up their surface ice into discrete islands that disappear one by one. The mountainous snow piles ranged around our cottage recede; green lawn reappears; red flares light the tips of the tree branches. One friend is alerted to spring by “some very noisy grackles.” I had to look up grackles – they’re “blackbirds that look like they’ve been slightly stretched.” I think I may have spotted a few myself.
Vernal equinox, Passover, Easter – we pass through the traditional gateways to spring. A succession of mild days in late March lulls me into thinking the seasonal shift is over. Then frigid air returns and I watch the odd late snow showers, tiny flakes barely able to make it into particulate form. On Good Friday I wake to a fresh layer of snow on the ground; it’s gone by noon. The gentle ebb-and-flow of these transitional weeks provides a consoling rhythm of its own: extremes meet, exchange greetings, and change places in an elemental dance.
Jonathan Shimkin, writer and editor, may be contacted at email@example.com, or via his website: jonathanshimkin.weebly.com.