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Early Spring

ISSUE:  Spring 1994

Catalogues shape the seasons of my mind. In January when Spring Hill’s “Planting Guide” and White Flower Farm’s “Garden Book” poked budding through the mail, I pulled the rumpled snow off the yard and folding it stored winter away on a back shelf of thought. In imagination my rocky half acre turned loamy, and breaking out of its dull, tight skin stretched fresh through meadow and across hillside. I lined the long driveway of dream with 24 Kousa dogwoods, all fully grown and in bloom, white clouds 30 feet tall. Over the well house, trumpet vines hung in red clusters. Before them hummingbirds paused, then swung like batons, softening the notes that seemed to blow brassy down the long blossoms. Amid Sweet William by the back door Eliza held a tea party. Kitty, Fuzzy, and Penny Panda sat in chairs around a minute table while Cowboy galloped on his rocking horse through a patch of baby’s breath, worried that he would miss the Oreo cookies that his partners were munching. Along the stone wall at the edge of the pasture, shrub roses bloomed like Easter bonnets. The roses were old-fashioned: damask Celsiana, pink Felicite Parmentier, Louise Odier, Marquise Bocella, and Rose de Rescht, its double blossoms puffs of powdery fragrance. The scents pulled the family like bees, and on cool evenings we strolled beside the wall, our conversation a hive of contented murmurings.

The meadow behind the house dipped down, then swept out to a creek. In the soft dirt above the creek a thicket of winterberry and sweet pepperbush thrived. Through the shrubs ran a path bordered on both sides by lilies: golden sunburst and scarlet emperor, pink Montreux and top hit, the blossoms of this last white as ironed sheets. Between the stones at the edge of the creek, yellow flag bloomed. The hillside across the creek was damp. In spring rivulets of water blew down it, resembling silver ribbons tied to a fan and streaming out in the breeze. Early on June mornings a haze hung over the hillside like a web. By noon the haze had burned off, and lupine gathered the sunlight turning it pink and purple. Throughout the meadow I scattered golden yarrow, ox-eyed daisies, and black-eyed Susans. In my mind blossoms bloomed and faded by the hour. All the planting and hoeing tired me, though, and one morning after transplanting boxwood I decided to buy horses. The children like to ride, and I owned so much land that I bought Bashkir Curleys. I told friends that I bought Curleys because they could endure long rides and were gentle. Although I did not tell people, I also purchased them because every horse owner I knew owned Morgans or quarter horses, and as spring rose through my veins, I imagined myself doing a bit of showy high-stepping, or at least prancing at a gait beyond that of the plodding herd.

I did not keep horses long, however. Soon after I raised the barn, the Grant Mitsch catalogue arrived from Hubbard, Oregon. An hour later oceans of daffodils rippled and broke across the meadow. In spring I prune all concern for expenses from my imagination. Scattered across the field were 300 white Chaste daffodils costing 40 dollars a bulb. Princeton and American Heritage bloomed in clumps, the former costing 70 dollars a bulb and the latter 90.Daffodils with white perianths appealed to me this year, and I planted Cedar Hills and Refrains throughout the field, the cups of the former yellow at the edges darkening to a green eye and the cups of the latter ruffling through pink and orange. With their split coronas pasted pink against white perianths and resembling splotches of lipstick, Shrikes stood garish alongside First Formals, dignified and demurely white. As the flowers tossed and curved through the field in rainbows, their names rang like poetry: Ice Chimes, Carib, Desert Bells, Moonflight, and Hillstar, Verdant Meadow, Pink Valley, and Night Music. From Smith and Hawken I bought a teak lawn chair. I placed it at the edge of the meadow under a stone arch, waxy with wisteria. On sunny days I sat in the chair and read my mail, the wisteria dangling blue above and the field beckoning like a table set with sweet fruits, the perianths platters and the coronas cups beading with color.

In January the letters I received bloomed like snow drops and warmed the days. From a nursing home in Pennsylvania Miss Frances thanked me for my letters.”It is not genius, or even love, that makes a person great,” she declared, “but kindness.” Even in New Hampshire sap was rising.”It’s an embarrassment,” a friend wrote from Concord, “that our generation of literary intellectuals is the first in nearly two centuries to have contributed little or nothing to the elucidation of Hamlet. I have remedied the situation.” Snow melted in Illinois, and wags generated spontaneously from the mud. “Mr. Pickering,” Glenn Tree McGhee supposedly wrote from the prison in Marion, “me and a fellow human being Mr. Duke Crawford is on a hunger strike and been on for 3 week. No one has showed no human concern for our human life. We are asking that you come out to here and call myself and Mr. Duke Crawford out to talk with us. This is all we ask and will come of this hunger strike. If you do not come we will die soon. Do not have our blood on your hands. You will go knowing you did not save us but we died.” For a moment the letter startled me, but then I recognized the imagination of a friend, one whose thoughts turned to pranks in the spring much as mine turned to flowers. If I could not visit the prison, Mr. McGhee instructed, then I was to pledge money to the “Carts for Weenie Dogs Foundation,” a nonprofit organization established to aid crippled dachshunds.”Make the donation in the name of the Stanky family,” Mr. McGhee explained, “Roy Leroy, Wanda Towanda, Fern Laverne, Gene Eugene, Earlene Lurlene, Cecil. Pray for this troubled family sick at heart and afflicted with sugar diabetes, sinus, and diarear. You could get a jar of salve if the money was big enough.”

The winter mail also brought catalogues for the children. Imaginary possessions did not satisfy them. Francis wanted “Turbo Pascal for Windows,” version 1.5, a programming language for computers. For his part Edward coveted a green T-shirt with the logo of the Florida Marlins baseball team on the chest, a marlin leaping through a gray buoy, the center of which resembled a baseball, white with orange stitching. From the Aston-Drake Galleries catalogue, Eliza picked out a doll: Mary the oldest of the Ingalls children in the Little House on the Prairie books. Wearing a brown sunbonnet and a calico dress, Mary held up a blue apron sagging with apples.”I know Helga and Octavia would invite her to their tea parties,” Eliza said; “she would give them apple slices, and they would give her Fig Newtons.” So that the items they wanted would not remain as hazy and impressionistic as the flowers that bloomed through my mind, Edward and Eliza drew up an “Allowance Scheldue” and handed it to me one day with the mail. Thirteen payments were listed.”Scrubbing the bathtub” brought 20 cents and “Watering Mom’s plants” 50 cents. For “Taking the garbage out,” they asked five cents.”Feeding George” was ten cents. While “Making parents’ bed” was a hefty 75 cents, the most costly item on the list was “Cleaning up the twigs in the yard” for five dollars. The children felt guilty asking for money for such chores, so they also drew up a list of a dozen “Allowance Deductions.” Some penalties were stiff, and 50 cents seemed the standard deduction, being applied to “Teasing,” “Forgetting to do our homework,” “Getting into deep trouble at school,” and “Watching over 1 hour a day of TV.” The penalty for “Playing the computer for over an hour” was 60 cents while “Getting phone messages mixed up” cost 40 cents and “Bad manners at the table” a nickel less. The most expensive deduction was five dollars for losing a library book while the least costly were “Not putting the toothpaste top on” at ten cents and “Not putting a new roll of toilet paper in” at 15 cents.

Also in the mail was a royalty check from the University Press of New England. During the past six months I earned $14.89 for two books, 11 cents less than the children would make for picking up sticks in the yard, twice in the fall and once in the spring.”Everybody,” I said, looking at the check and feeling spring-like, “let’s make a night of it and go to the girls’ basketball game at the university.” Vicki and Francis did not want to go, and so that night Edward, Eliza, and I attended the game. The check did not cover expenses. I spent a dollar and 50 cents more than the cost of a Starthroat daffodil bulb: 11 dollars for tickets, five for an adult and three for each child; ten dollars and 50 cents for treats, two hot dogs at a dollar and 75 apiece, two cokes at a dollar and 50 cents each, and three Eskimo Pies at a dollar a pie, one of these last for Edward, the other two for Eliza. For himself Daddy spent a dollar for a cup of watery “Colombian Supreme” coffee.

Spending the royalty check, and more, at one expansive swoop emboldened me. At the end of summer my sabbatical was slated to begin, and I planned to take the family to Australia in order to write a book. Australia is expensive; airplane tickets alone cost about 11 thousand dollars. Unlike many acquaintances I have never earned money from writing, much less been able to wrangle an advance for a book, convince a foundation to award me a fellowship, or a corporation to sponsor my wanderings. Although the girls’ basketball team lost, spring was in the blood. As I blew the check at the game, perhaps others, I thought, might also feel green and open a pocketbook for me. Consequently I put together a packet of material including copies of my latest collections of essays, reviews, articles about my little doings, and then an assortment of letters, one, for example, agreeing to publish the book I wrote about Australia, others from Australia itself inviting me to towns and universities. I sent the packet to United and Qantas airlines, to automobile companies—Ford, Mazda, General Motors, and Chrysler—then to the United States Information Agency, the cultural branch of the diplomatic service. For tickets, a car, or lecture fees I offered to barter paragraphs and chapters of the book. Immediately United Airlines, General Motors, and Chrysler wrote saying they rarely sponsored junkets like mine, Chrysler, explaining to my embarrassment, that the corporation did not “distribute vehicles in Australia.”

“Sam,” a literary man said to me in January, “you hide your learning better than anyone I’ve ever met.” Would that the other companies I wrote concealed their opinion of my plans as well as I hid my learning. Alas, resembling the literary man, they had strong opinions about my writing, so strong they did not acknowledge receiving my packets. At another time of the year the responses or the lack thereof might have bothered me. In the season of catalogues, however, little upsets rarely disturb me, and I raked the cars and planes from my imagination and resowed my days, planting butterfly bushes on the far hillside above the lupine and then, to my neighbors’ surprise, buying horses again, this time Lippizans because I have a few tricks with which I plan to startle readers accustomed to ordinary literary dressage.

At the end of February I flew to California and spent a week at Stanford University. Real spring blossomed, and I roamed the campus, much as I wandered catalogues, turning the grounds into my garden. Brown towhees and scrub jays scratched through bushes. Brewer’s blackbirds hunched on limbs outside a snack bar, whistling then twisting their heads to roll gold eyes over the picnic tables in hopes of finding crumbs. Behind a ridge the sun glowed yellow, melting the hills and making the horizon flow soft and cloudy like candle wax. Saucer magnolias were red and fragrant; hibiscus, pink, and acacia bloomed in long yellow fingers. The early morning light pulled pools of color from deep within Chinese elms, turning the bark orange and gray. For a moment blue welled out of fissures in the bark of live oaks. By noon the color had drained back into the heartwood and the bark was gray. A small flock of waxwings picked through a young eucalyptus. Never before had such trees grown in my gardens, and I spent much time looking at eucalyptus. On one tree leaves resembled silver awls while the bark twisted upward and turned red like skin stretched taut by an Indian burn. From the bark of another eucalyptus sap oozed then hardened black, appearing singed. Clumps of scarlet blossoms hung almost invisible among the leaves until they burst into sight like flames. About the trunk of another eucalyptus strips of bark lay curled resembling shags pulled from country rugs. The tree was huge and walking around the trunk took me 11 long paces. The limbs themselves were massive, and places from which bark had peeled were white resembling great bleached bones through which blues and grays flowed, shadows of clouds laden with weather.

Another morning I roamed Jasper Ridge, a biology preserve in the foothills above Stanford. Although I knew the wildlife could not survive New England, I wanted to graft a scion of California onto the trunk of my Connecticut. A different spring might, I imagined, force me to word and flower earlier than usual. And so I studied Jasper Ridge, seeing leather and blue oaks for the first time, marveling at valley oaks, the bare limbs curving heavy then suddenly breaking into nests of twigs, fibrous against the pale sky. Clots of mistletoe grew high in the valley oaks, and acorn woodpeckers fluttered between trees, their faces clowns’ masks of red, yellow, white, and black. Moss grew green up the trunks of live oaks, and from limbs ramalina lichens hung in long creamy nets. Bark cracked open across madrone, and pulling, rolled into scrolls, turning branches umber. Along a slope above a creek, poison oak grew in grabbing snares. In a grove of redwoods, shredded bark held water and sound, cooling and quieting the day. Resembling a swollen orange Gummy Bear, a California newt clung to greenstone above a stream. Yellow banana slugs as long as my hand ate glistening paths across decaying leaves. Run-offs from the hills wore smooth, mouth-like channels through sandstone. Moss grew thick on the rocks above the channels; through the moss California polypody pushed then sprouted in green falls, a double row of orange seed dots beneath each leaflet. Wild cucumber threw tendrils out and grasping twigs wound themselves up through stronger plants. I chewed bay laurel, then pitcher and California sage. I sliced open a fist-sized oak apple gall, pitted by the gray larvae of parasitic wasps. While the flower of buck brush had not opened and resembled a cluster of small rattles, sprays of white urn-shaped blossoms speckled manzanita. Beneath oaks rose red bushes of Indian warrior, the leaves at the top of the plant cut sharply, the flowers below smooth paddles. While a black phoebe turned after insects above the lake, two coots glided slowly along the shore, their bills white in the sun.

My Jasper Ridge resembled a gathering of impressionist paintings, soothing colors spread across hours, making me feel kindly. As milkmaids and trillium blossomed modestly, so I was drawn to people who drew nourishment from their years and bloomed with story, spring people who delighted in life and who concealed only their learning, not themselves. My host in California was Ted Harris, an old friend, now head of the Department of Medicine at the Stanford Medical School. Late one November night some years ago, Ted recounted, his mother telephoned him.”I’ve just heard the news,” she said, “and I wanted to tell you how sorry I am.” “Sorry?” Ted answered, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, “sorry for what?” “I’m sorry,” she said, “that you didn’t win the Nobel Prize.” For the next six years Mrs. Harris telephoned each November to offer Ted condolences for not winning the prize. In the seventh year, however, Mrs. Harris needed an operation. She was old, and the odds were good that she would not survive surgery. While she was in the hospital, the Nobel Prize for medicine was announced. “Ted,” she said when he visited her just before the operation, “I’m sorry about the prize.” “That’s all right, mother,” he said, telling a green lie; “this year I finished second.” “Oh,” she said, smiling as the orderly wheeled her toward the surgery, “how very nice.”

For the students the hibiscus blooming on the university grounds appeared to be spring enough. During my week at Stanford I did not see a single couple holding hands. Moreover I saw so few children on campus that I suspected that both faculty and students had been inoculated against spring fever. At least no signs of the fever came to notice until the day I left. Each morning I ate in a university dining hall. Students always ate with me, and at breakfast that last morning when I said that I had to eat hurriedly because I was scheduled to talk to residents at the medical school, Jill, a slender blooming freshman, smiled quietly then spoke. “Would you mind doing some shopping for me?” she said, turning her fork upside down and pulling it slowly through syrup atop a blueberry waffle, the tines cutting soft sticky slopes.”Do what?” I said.”Shopping,” she answered; “find me a doctor. I don’t care what his specialty is just so long as he is good-looking.”

Suddenly hormonal spring seemed not only in the air but in the blood, even at home in Connecticut where it was, to my mind at least, not weeks but decades early.”Daddy,” Eliza said when I walked in the door after California, “Jason kissed me today at school.” “When did he kiss you?” I said, sitting down at the kitchen table.”In math,” Eliza said, “I was subtracting four-digit numbers. Jason isn’t very good at math, and he can only subtract one-digit numbers.” “Oh,” I said, thinking that if subtraction led to kissing in the second grade what would multiplication lead to in the sixth grade. “Anyway,” Eliza said, interrupting my reverie, “I told him not to do it again. He is not Tarzan.” “No,” I echoed, “he is not Tarzan.” Since the 17th century educators have preached that childhood reading shapes adults. Despite thinking the idea suspect, I paid literary lip service to the doctrine. For nine years I have read to the children. Along with entertainments I occasionally selected books which attempted to teach lessons. The present world seems a harder and colder place than the one in which I grew up, and I want Eliza to be self-sufficient. To this end I read scores of books to the children in which heroines were tough and independent. The example did not take. Children are more complex than doctrine, and Eliza fell in love with Tarzan. Instead of thrusting strong-willed through life, she imagines herself swooning before Tarzan, a man with prehensile toes who is happiest swishing naked through the tops of trees.

Because the telephone began ringing and continued to ring through dinner that evening, I did not think much about Eliza’s infatuation. The calls were for Edward. Lucy, a little girl in Edward’s fourth grade class, wanted to know if he “liked” her.”For heaven’s sakes, Edward,” I said, “tell her you like her. That will make her feel good, and these damn calls will stop.” “I don’t know, Daddy,” Edward began. . . . “Just do it,” I said when the phone suddenly rang again; “if you don’t, you cannot have dessert.” “Well?” I said when Edward returned to the table, “what did she say” Edward’s face was red.”What she said was inappropriate for a nine year old,” he replied; “it might be all right for a 15 year old. But for a nine year old, it is inappropriate, and I can’t tell you.” In public right-thinking parents subscribe to privacy. In private they rummage through their children’s lives and desks.”Edward,” I said, “I respect your right to be silent, and if you don’t wish to share Lucy’s remarks, that is fine with me.” Then I put my fork down, and standing said to Eliza and Francis, “let’s play Memory. Edward can join when he finishes dessert.” If people were divers and secrets pearls, Vicki would be a millionaire. Before he even nibbled dessert, she had pried him open and pocketed the conversation. “What gives?” I said to her 30 minutes latter while the children were upstairs waiting for me to read to them. Edward’s response, Vicki recounted, pleased Lucy.”Oh, I am so glad you like me, Edward,” Lucy said, “but I don’t think we should do it—yet.” “Jesus!” I responded, “I am sending Edward to California.” Not all the children were roused by hormones baying at the winter’s traces. With eyes only for keyboard and screen, Francis was oblivious to all charms other than those of Turbot Pascal. Indeed when Evan constructed a “Flirt Chart” at school, rating his friends from active or ten to inactive or zero, Francis fell off the chart, scoring minus five.

Reared by an ape Tarzan was a primitive sort of guy, and not long after I returned from Stanford, I revised my opinion and decided that the pagan and the earthy interested Eliza more than primates. On the coffee table in the living room she erected a garish altar, built, she explained, to welcome Persephone back from the underworld. Over the table she spread a red silk scarf decorated with fat tongues of color then with wildflowers resembling butterflies, some with red bodies and pink wings, others with blue bodies and white wings. In the middle of the table stood Josephine, a doll eight inches tall. While a straw hat bound by a yellow and green band perched on the back of her head a ribbon of lace, a red rose pinned to it, tied up her hair. Josephine wore a ruffled dress, and from her waist hung a blue apron, speckled with minute purple and red birds. At Josephine’s feet Eliza arranged an assortment of objects: three cloth poppies, one and a half feet long with red velvety blossoms; a granite rock with the face of a green owl painted on it; a ceramic cat five and a half inches tall and made in Mexico, three shiny 1993 pennies, the Lincoln heads up; four seashells, one a measled cowry and the rest orange and white olives; and then a porcelain face mask of a woman, her hair resembling the black and white keys on a piano, and hanging down from the side of her head where her ears ought to have been a tangle of ribbons, black, gold, and red. In front of Josephine Eliza placed a rectangle of clear plastic, an inch thick, two and five eighths inches tall, and three and three-quarters inches long. Inside was a shoal of sea creatures: two pearly snails, a seahorse, lacy threads of seaweed, a starfish, a limpet, and two small pink cockle shells. Balanced on top of the plastic and resembling an umbrella was a sand dollar. Sometimes I think modern life more pagan than that of ancient Greece. In March Edward’s class saw a film which celebrated the changes that occur as little girls mature and become capable of having babies. That night at dinner Edward described the movie, seasoning his explanation with terms such as ovary, womb, and fallopian tube. Not only did he use the word period, but he explained the matter in clinical detail. During Edward’s account, Eliza’s mind drifted from lower bodily regions to Lower Egypt. Only when he described the period did she pay attention.”Well,” she said when he finished, “I wonder who invented that thingy-do—that pyramid.”

Not only was the sap rising through my family, but some of the vascular creatures inhabiting my essays had awakened from their winter naps and had begun to percolate about the town. Horace Newell married Mozelle Burn. County treasurer for two decades and one of the best friends, as Turlow Gutheridge put it, that money could buy, Horace was rumored to have discounted many tax assessments. For her part Mozelle was a person of a generous and democratic nature, a woman never reluctant to accept remuneration for certain therapeutic services at which she was remarkably adept. “Great God!” Turlow exclaimed on hearing about the marriage, “that scoundrel Horace just can’t stop robbing the public.” For the first time in months Cora Tilly did not ask Vester McBee to shop for her at Barrow’s Grocery. Instead Cora put on shoes with rubber soles and walked uptown and shopped by herself. Cora was a careful shopper, and before buying a vegetable she pinched all the produce in the bin. Nothing irritated Lowry Barrow more than people squeezing vegetables. Often when business was slow, he crept along the aisle past the canned goods until he reached the fresh vegetables. Slowly he peeked around the corner, and if he saw someone fingering the vegetables, he spoke sharply to them. On this particular occasion Cora Tilly held a big tomato in her left hand, and when Lowry looked around the corner, she thumped it with the index finger of her right hand. Lowry paid handsomely for the tomatoes, buying them in Lebanon from Maury Stonebridge who had grown them in his greenhouse. “Cora,” he barked, “put that tomato back!” Cora was so startled that she gasped and jumped upward, breaking wind with a loud bang. “And,” Lowry continued, straightening up himself, “you can put that back, too.”

Hink Ruunt didn’t erect an altar to the season, but he did hire Hopp Watrous to build a new barn. Hopp worked quickly. By early summer the barn was finished, and all that remained was to remove a mound of trash: ends of wood, bent nails, a few curls of tin from the roof, and a pile of stones Hopp dug out when making the root cellar. Always penurious Hink asked Hopp how he planned to get rid of the rubbish. When Hopp replied that he was going to hire Loppie Groat and his mule Jeddry to haul the trash away, Hink objected, saying that Hopp could save money by digging a hole in the ground and burying the rubbish in it.”That is all well and good, Hink,” Hopp responded, “but what do you suggest I do with the dirt I dig out of the hole?” “Use your head, Hopp,” Hink replied.”Just dig the hole deep enough and you can bury the dirt and everything all together.”

With the coming of spring, people felt healthy enough to visit doctors. Isom Legg traveled to Carthage from Orphan’s Friend to see Dr. Sollows.”You’ve got to help me, doctor,” Isom pleaded; “I’m near sighted and ruptured and suffer something awful from varicose veins and boils. I’ve got a liver complaint, an aching back, Bright’s disease of the kidneys, dyspepsia, neuralgia, and the green bronchitis, not to mention a pain in the shoulder bone of my flank.” “Have you talked to Dr. Chism in Lebanon about your troubles?” Dr. Sollows asked.”Oh, yes,” Isom replied; “I’ve consulted all the doctors in Lebanon, the regular and the not so regular ones: a homeopath, two chiropractors, and when I was up to Nashville, a podiatrist. I’ve tried the store-bought medicines, too, Sloan’s Liniment, Lydia Pinkham, and Doan’s Pills. Last summer,” Isom continued, “Pharaoh Parkus baptized me in the Cany Fork River. But that didn’t do no good. All that water done was to put me in a flux and give me a bad catarrh.” “Mr. Legg,” Dr. Sollows said after Isom finished describing the ailments and treatments, “you best go home and rest in peace. If you have tried all these things and are still alive, I don’t know of anything that can kill you.”

Dr. Sollow’s prescription did not go down well with Isom. Later, when Turlow Gutheridge saw Isom outside Read’s drugstore and asked him how he was doing, Isom replied in a surly manner, “I am as well as you or anybody else can be that is no better health than I am.” The season, not Dr. Sollows, was responsible for Isom’s irascibility. Along with flowers weeds sprout in the spring, both in gardens and characters. In March teachers in the local schools assigned “units” on the American Indian to students.”I am tired of Indians,” Eliza said; “they are too good. Weren’t there any bad ones?” “I have studied Indians for six years,” Frances said, “and I have never met a real Indian.” “Lots of people in this town come from Poland and Italy,” Edward said; “why don’t we ever read about them?” “Yes,” Frances added, “why not the Irish or the Germans?” “I wish we could study the Greeks,” Eliza said, “especially the myths.” At breakfast the next morning a piece of paper appeared in the middle of the kitchen table. Drawn on it were three “warriors”: Pee Pee Hawk, Do Do Bear, and Chief Sitting on the Pot. Like a doctrinaire “socially responsible” gardener I fetched my intellectual hoe and chopped at the weeds, but I am afraid I did not uproot them. My back wasn’t in the task, for I, too, had grown irascible.”A real education,” I told Vicki later, “would nurture thought from seed. Most of the time schools purchase ideas from social garden centers. All the plants come from the same rootstock. No wonder children are bored by their lessons.”

Although diced weeds can spice a day, they do not mix well with ambition. The next morning I received a telephone call from California. A producer was putting together a series of bookish shows for public television. Already “on board,” he informed me, were two “stars,” and he wondered if I would become part of “the team.” The people he mentioned were famous and just to sail once across the screen in their company I would have signed up for a voyage with Captain Bligh. Or at least I would have, had not spring and weeds arrived.”Next Wednesday we are having a luncheon in New York,” the man continued; “and we would like you to join us. Will you be able to attend?” “No,” I heard myself say. Like runners rolling out from hawkweed through a lawn, my words were uncontrollable.”No,” I repeated, “I never go to New York. Besides,” I continued, “I have to clean the yard. Daffodils are coming up, and I did not rake the leaves off them last fall.” “You could have hired the children,” Vicki said later; “they only wanted five dollars for tidying the whole yard.”

Spring is wet in Connecticut. No matter how withering the foolishness of a day, rain falls and buds unfold. In the woods behind the house hazelnut bloomed, the male catkins turning yellow and the minute female flowers wrinkling into scarlet threads. I raked the leaves off the daffodils and amid the distracting bustle of spring forgot about the television program. An opportunity to promote my books had vanished, but something else, I knew, would soon blossom, for spring like all the seasons is wonderfully various. Just yesterday Tanya brought her pet ferret, Sabine, to class. After class she put Sabine on my shoulders and suggested that I write about pets.”A ferret,” she said, “would be a change from flowers.” “I don’t know anything about ferrets,” I answered; “what would I say?” During our conversation Sabine twisted over my back and around my neck. Abruptly, though, she stopped and perching on my collar bone leaned forward, dug her claws into my shoulder, and urinated down my back.”Oh, Lord!” Tanya exclaimed then grabbed her pet.”Professor,” she said, her facer redder than an old-fashioned Chrysler Imperial rose.”Sabine has never done this before. She has never peed on anyone, and I don’t know why she did it now.” “Tanya,” I said, stepping out of the puddle and starting to unbutton my shirt, “wonderful things always happen in the spring. Now I have something to write about.”


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