Tag Archives: Spring

Three Paragraphs of Gratitude

Walking after lunch a couple weeks ago I had to scoot over and make room on the sidewalk for an elderly man riding a bicycle. This was before the latest string of Pacific storms turned the neighborhood into a swamp. The rider was dressed for pleasant weather in light brown slacks without socks and a thin green cardigan, unbuttoned, with his sleeves rolled up. He had the axe-blade face and weird flying white hair of Samuel Beckett. He nodded silently as he passed. I saw then that it wasn’t a standard bicycle he was riding but one of those oxymoronic three-wheeled bicycles that I hesitate to call a “tricycle” since all three wheels are the same size. There was a platform on the back and bouncing atop the platform as it rolled over tree roots was a small white and orange Jack Russell, his head nodding at me – just like his master’s had done – as they moved away.

Last weekend I spent a very happy half hour on the porch in my slippers and pea coat, smoking my pipe and listening to the birds. I had to hold an umbrella in my left hand and tend the pipe with my right. It was one of those delicious springtime moments when a light mist is falling but the sun is shining too. Robins and mockingbirds that had only recently come back to the area were dashing through the oleanders and willows, rediscovering old haunts. Blue tobacco smoke pooled under the umbrella as if hiding from the sky. I slowly twirled it in my hand and the smoke spilled upwards little by little around the edges, like water streaming away the wrong direction.

I recently received what I consider the fourth greatest compliment of my life (the first three being my wife’s consent to marry me and my two children’s consent to be born). A reader had written to tell me that though he was, as a Norbertine father and prior of an abbey, obliged to observe Lent, he would not be giving up my Marginalia series this season. I answered that I was glad to hear it and hoped my little offerings weren’t too heady an indulgence for anyone. The good father replied (and I’ll preserve his anonymity so as not to implicate him as a reader of this blog) that in his opinion they “have the quality of inciting a certain gratitude for the world which is after all the stuff of prayer and penance and alms.” As the unworthy recipient of such wonderful words, I can only hope to live (and write) up to them.


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Marginalia, no.115

…these narrow engines…

~ Thomas Browne, Religio Medici

With reference to bees and other insects, a happy phrase.  The bees are suddenly everywhere now that it’s April.  The hummingbirds too, darting like miniature knights-errant through the budding trees, lances at the ready, in flashing green and purple mail.  Napoleonic Man contrives by religion or philosophy to crown himself imperial Microcosmos, but the smaller perfections elude him.  The bee and the hummingbird make him slow and gross by comparison.

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Spring, of all seasons most gratuitous,
Is fold of untaught flower, is race of water,
Is earth’s most multiple, excited daughter;

And those she has least use for see her best
Their paths grown craven and circuitous,
Their visions mountain-clear, their needs immodest.

~ Philip Larkin, from Spring

I ask the pardon of any readers who live in less accommodating climes and must find this premature.  But the orchards (what’s left of them) are awash in mustard blossoms and walking just now I embarrassed two hummingbirds mating in the boughs of a flowering tree.

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Jean Giono in Joy of Man’s Desiring calls spring “that time of year when the trees are in love with each other.” I had forgotten it, but happily the phrase came back to me today as I passed down a shaded avenue in a rain of falling blossoms. Proof of the trees’ amours is spread on the balmy, fondling air in the form of little scalloped petals, pink and white, semi-transparent, fragile as the fingernails of infants.  In the oblivion of their passion the trees pay no attention to those who admire them but pass the whole day exchanging ardent, melting glances with one another.

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