The winter landscape is fading away. The stark grays and blacks of leafless trees and shrubs are now covered with soft greens, whites, and various shades of peach, gold, and pink. Bare branches now flutter with soft petals and colorful birds move between them like flecks of confetti against a cerulean blue sky.
The beige and gray grasses of the salt marshes have given way to the new greens of this year’s growth and the bursts of white beach plum blossoms add a soft edge to the winter-barren sands of the dunes. The poverty grass, dusty miller and the shoots of seaside goldenrod and marsh heather all add their different shades of green to the spring party at the beach and in the dunes as well.
Everything looks softer than it did even a few weeks ago. The sharp edges are now hidden behind new leaves, abundant blossoms, and slender, young grasses. Everywhere I turn I see signs of a softer, more welcoming landscape. Even the clouds look softer and puffier, but that could just be my own wishful thinking.
The air is filled with soft scents of fresh earth, rainwater, flowers, and new leaves. All my winter-enhanced aches and pains seem to have softened as well. Maybe they’re just more bearable on warm, sunny days.
Male birds are singing and displaying, wooing their mates as the sun shines longer each day. Their songs fill the mornings with sweetness and if one keeps watch quietly one may see the cardinals feeding each other, the catbirds flirting, or the robins gathering dried grasses for their nests.
It’s funny to think of spring as a soft season because there’s a lot going on that is far from soft. Spring is a time of strident survival, of fights and contests, of winning and losing. But it is also the time for baby animals, almost all of which are adorable. Even a tadpole or baby snake has a certain cuteness factor. And for most of us, adorable and cute, though embarrassingly human descriptors, make us feel soft in the heart.
It’s been a long, hard year and this past winter seemed especially long and difficult. With a softening of COVID-19 restrictions due to the increasing number of people getting fully vaccinated, a slow return to personal freedom is coinciding nicely with spring this year. The fact that the weather is cooperating, making spring actually feel and look like spring, helps as well.
As I planted early vegetables in my garden this week I listened to the orioles sing and fuss while several males demanded that their invisible territorial boundaries be observed. My resident mockingbird sang from the corner of my roof and not far from me a song sparrow foraged among the grasses. It was a quiet scene, yet full of life and promise.
Spring gives us a new chance to grow and prosper every year. She offers us beauty and stimulation for all our senses, but in a subtle, not overpowering, way. She reminds us that where we see blossoms we will soon see berries, fruit, or nuts. She gives shelter to the birds and small animals in ways Old Man Winter never could. She lays out a smorgasbord of food and water for all, in all shapes, colors and sizes. She makes way for ducklings and coyote pups in the same way, allowing each to figure out their own ways in the world. Those that don’t figure it out often provide for others, so their young lives were not in vain, no matter how short they may have been.
There’s something gentle and sweet about the way spring caresses the landscape in pastel shades of early growth. The songs of courtship are seductive, unlike the calls of warning that will soon replace them when the young begin to fledge from the nests. It lulls us into a sense of wellbeing and happiness, even if only for a day or two. After months of angst and uncertainty, I’ll take it.
Summer brings simmering heat, torrential rains and unexpected gusts of wind that can parch the landscape, flood plants and animal homes, and take down whole trees. Survival becomes a gamble for many, especially those born into families of hundreds, if not thousands, such as baby fish and horseshoe crabs. Summer brings plenty to the table in terms of food and camouflage, but not all benefit equally.
Fall brings a rush for gathering and preparations for winter and winter brings the most challenges of all. Spring is the only season that promises new beginnings, new hopes with every blossom, blade of grass, tiny new bird, or baby turtle or crab.
There hasn’t been much soft and sweet about the last year, so let’s enjoy the softness this spring is laying at our feet. And let’s not forget the lessons we have learned before we jump back into the cesspool of overconsumption and greed without a thought of the consequences. Slowing down and appreciating the soft is one of them, I think. If there’s been an upside to a year of isolation, that may be it in a nutshell.