in Just- spring when the world is mud- luscious the little lame balloonman whistles far and wee and eddieandbill come running from marbles and piracies and it's spring when the world is puddle-wonderful eecummings
On Friday, three days before the first day of Spring, the temperature climbs into the sixties in the early afternoon. Lured by the warmth, I put my icegrippers on over my hiking shoes and turn right onto the Freeport Conservation Trust’s muddy path that crosses our property, headed for a new trail, which my grandchildren, after seeing its shape, named the Tadpole Trail. The trail crosses and follows the Little River, which flows from a beaver pond, about a half mile away, all the way to the ocean. This time of year, elvers are likely swimming upstream to spawn.
The water in the river is running strong and the only sound I hear in the forest beyond the call of woodpeckers and an occasional hermit thrush is the clear burbling sound of the water as it runs down to the sea. The sound is complex, like music: a quartet of cello and piano, drums and violin; sometimes quiet and slow, sometimes loud and cacophonous. It is much like what is happening inside me on this walk, today, two years almost to the day when Maine shut down for the pandemic and the world changed instantly around us. So many memories of the last two years ripple through my mind, rise up, fall away.
Here in the Maine woods the puddle-wonderful, mud-luscious world just beyond my back door is resplendent, not yet with white bunchberry blossoms or sweet white violets or lady slippers, but with moss. There’s still a little snow in the woods, and the paths under the almost hundred foot tall white pines and hemlocks crowded tightly together like a big unruly family are icy where people have walked. But with most of the snow cover gone, the mosses reveal themselves in their many shades of green, soft texture and moist leaves. They upholster the rocks left behind by glaciers, drape the fallen birch logs, climb up the base of red maple trees. Somewhere I have a moss identification guide. I have many times vowed to learn their names but the joy of moving my body fast through the massive trees has proven too great a sacrifice to allow me to slow down long enough to examine their small lives.
Last year on this date, there was an exuberance in the air. I was vaccinated. I gave up my mask. It’s over, I thought. I even gave up writing my year’s long Substack blog: Covid Diaries, my record of how we thought about the pandemic and how we coped.
But today I am not, like eddieandbill or like myself last year, filled with the exuberance of just-spring. I am holding more disappointment and uncertainty and sadness than I have in many years. I yearn for the time when just-spring held the kind of childlike exuberance eecummings captures in this poem. And I mourn for the ways in which that kind of exuberance has been stolen from children today by the triple threat of the pandemic, climate change and nuclear war. I’ve spoken to several mothers this week who carry so much sadness and worry for their children that I just want to throw my arms around them and rock them. Oh! the children. Oh! the mothers of children. Oh! the suffering we see in Ukraine where one in five people have left their homes, where a building with the word “children” scrawled in big letters on the ground at either end of the building was bombed.
How will I hold all this? I ask myself as I walk the path, careful not to stumble on the trees’ roots that protrude from the mud and beckon my feet to disaster. How will I maintain the optimism and energy for all the work involved in supporting FreeportCAN, in being a mother and wife and grandmother and friend and therapist? How will I support myself? All the while the moss call to me. There are days when the towering trees call to me, but today I am mesmerized by moss. There is a message these mosses hold but I don’t yet know what it is.
Then I remember a book I have on my bookshelf, Gathering Moss, A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses, by Robin Wall Kimmerer. She, the author of Braiding Sweetgrass and wise-woman keeper of indigenous knowledge, must have some light to shed on the message of moss.
I open the book and thumb through it for passages that move me. No, it’s not the chapter about moss and sex, or the chapter about recognizing the individuality of each moss and the intimacy that comes from that. It’s this:
“I brought a moss covered rock to (my niece’s) pre-school for her science show and tell. I asked the kids at preschool what a moss was. They skipped right over the question of animal, vegetable and mineral and got directly to the most salient feature: mosses are small. Kids recognize this right away. This most salient attribute has tremendous consequences for how mosses inhabit the world.”
Small. This word again. Just saying the word to myself soothes me. Because mosses are small, they can inhabit spaces that larger plants and trees can’t inhabit. They can survive on a droplet of water blown their way by a small current of air or a dew drop left on a rock at sunrise. They can duplicate by the same breeze blowing a moss spore onto another rock. They exist only in the boundary layer closest to the earth, where they achieve mighty things in very small ways.
The crises in the world which feel so vivid and close, combined with the little bit of time left to me and my acknowledgement of all the privileges and wealth and good fortune I’ve been given, all collude to make me feel as if I have not time to be small, to creep along the forest floor and pay attention to the small things I can accomplish. Instead, I’ve felt I must run, must stand as tall as the mighty pine and contribute as much to the land and sky.
But I am one small old lady living on the edge of a forest in a small town almost as far East and North in America as you can get and, in this small place, I can pay attention to the people and the saltmarshes and the robins and the commas in my sentences. I can speak about the connection between the bombings of children in Ukraine and fossil fuels and I can curb the carbon I burn and work in the local climate action group I am part of and make my small difference. And I can hope that my efforts get carried on the wind like the spores of moss and form life somewhere else. And from this vantage point, the mud-luscious world is clearer and closer.
My action plan for you today is to link you to a real tall and mighty tree! I urge you to read this incredibly well researched, optimistic and mind-altering article about the future of renewables in this week’s New Yorker written by my Vermont neighbor and climate warrior hero, Bill McKibben. https://www.newyorker.com/news/essay/in-a-world-on-fire-stop-burning-things
Readers, I believe this bouquet of balloons I found nestled on my porch hours after publishing this essay needs to be shared with all of you as proof that moss spores travel through the air and come back to you in forms of joy you can never imagine beforehand. Thank you to the kind and whimsical giver of this gift. It brought delight not only to me but to Levin, a friend’s son whom I also found on the porch when his parents came to empty the sap buckets they’ve hung from our trees. It’s been a sweet morning!!
Mud- luscious and beautiful weaving! Just what I needed this Sunday morning.
Loved reading this! Thank you and happy Spring.