Rites of Spring


Yesterday afternoon Mary Ann, my wife, told me to quickly look on our patio next to the screen porch. Turning, I saw two Carolina Chickadees tussling on the concrete. Mary Ann and I watched what we thought was the spring mating rite, but when the two tiny bodies did not dis-engage but lay on the concrete next to each other, we asked, “Are they taking a cigarette break?” Watching them lay still but locked in an embrace, Mary Ann went to them and without any difficulty, picked the beating bodies in her hands and carefully separated them. One flew to the fence and the other soon chased it across the lawn towards the lake. Coming in, she told me how their small talons had become entangled in the other’s, and even in the other’s wings. Had she not seen them, we summarized that they would have died of exhaustion from the territorial battle. Death almost became an unintended consequence for both males.

Spring is viewed as a time of re-birth. The Ancient Greeks explained it as the time of Persephone’s return from the underworld to the earth. The time of dark winter, when she was in Hades is over, and the earth blooms and animals reproduce, and all living things are energized. It is a time of joy. A time of passion. A time of hope.

Yet, the fierce battle between the two tiny bodies, each no bigger than my thumb, is a reminder. Everything has another side, even your loving Aunt Mildred or favorite teacher or best friend. Nothing is everything we see or hope it to be, and nature is a good teacher of this life fact. However, it seems to this observer, that we have, as a society, tried to make life in general smoother and less negative. We grow berry producing plants that have no thorns. We manufacture products for easier living that never decompose.  GMO’s line our grocery shelves. We work hard at bending nature to fit our needs and wants.

In his poem Mother to Son, Langston Hughes compares life to a stairwell.  The mother in the poem describes the stairwell that she has climbed as one of loose boards, tacks, splinters, and sometimes dark. She tells how her journey has not been one of a “crystal stair,” but she tells how she has always reached landings and turned corners. She tells her son “Don’t you sit down on the steps/’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.”,

Some may say that the poem is a negative look at life and one not to be shared with our children. However, I read the poem as a realistic summary of living and one that is authentic. Life, any life, has splinters and tacks and loose board. But, we should keep on going, even when it is dark. The mother in the poem is an example for us all. She knows that as long as she turns corners and walks “through the valley of the shadow of death” she will see the sunlight and glory of life. It is our going through the dark stairwells and valleys of life, that make the ridges more beautiful.

Two small, male bodies fighting for breeding rights of our back yard during early spring teach that not all of this season is as we see it. However, that dark side does not negate the bright side of budding dogwoods, vibrant greens, and bird song filled air. It is a time of rebirth when some fledglings will fall from the nest. No GMOs will change that.

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