Monday 18 April 2016

April: gardens and books, books and gardens

A cheeky blackbird watches us through the french windows
from the terrace.

It is the end of the birds' courtships. They are still singing happily in the early morning, starting at the first ray of light, the crack of dawn, when it seems still dark and I am half asleep in my bed. They wake me up. But they are thinking seriously of weddings and starting families. They have real estate projects and want to shelter their loves and their fledglings.

Yesterday, instead of being watched by the cheeky blackbird with his head cocked on one side and with very keen and bright black eyes, I watched him trying to find a suitable place in the nearest fir tree. It took some time but he found the entrance he liked best near the core of the tree, evaluated the space and started bringing twigs and moss in his beak to build the family nest. The loads he was able to carry were astonishing. Some twigs were almost as long as his body; there were big clumps of moss taken from the terrace, and he flew tirelessly for about an hour before he took a rest. He was closely supervised and carefully watched by the robin who had been sole owner of the place during winter. The red robin was very unhappy to have to share his territory and burst in angry argument from time to time. Higher up in the fir tree, another bird was also building his nest, and collared doves were cooing in the oak tree nearby, fleeing shyly when a mischievous squirrel jumped among them. 

The month is slowly but decidedly turning to May. We had rain, showers, dampness, grey weather and chilly days. But there was sun and rising temperatures. No more flowers on the forsythias, no more daffodils, no more hyacinths. Tulips everywhere, shoots of irises almost ready to bloom, mauve tinged buds of wisteria, golden yellow coming alive on laburnums, apple tree flowers ready to explode in a white and light pink clouds. And leaves are growing, growing, growing, turning from bronze or tender green to deeper shades. There are small, short daisies (pâquerettes), dog violets, most of them purple but some white, and primroses. The road verges, the brook and the river banks becoming grassy and juicy under feet, the hill above blending slowly new leaves and darker pine trees.

Gardens are busy. But what are gardens? I talk of our garden but people say "your park". Doctor Quack was the last person to say so when he came to have a look at The Girls the other day. I looked at him with a silly face. "Park?", I echoed with doubt. "It is a garden or different gardens but I would not call it a park". He differed with some heat, so I let it pass.

Later, I thought that it might be called a park because it was thought out out and mapped. We still have the maps and the drafts that show the initial groups of trees, shrubs, orchard, vegetable garden, box hedges, flower beds, alleys. But time has elapsed and birds have planted seeds and stones; new trees have grown, others have died or were too old and had to be felled. But a garden is a place where to work. 

From the Comtesse de Ségur and her Petites Filles Modèles or the cousins in Les Vacances to the obnoxious and yet ineffable Martine, all stories about gardens in children's books and their illustrations show people working.

Children are alone or with their family. They are making it a light job but it is rather hard and not for pleasure only. There will certainly be flowers nevertheless vegetables are the main matter.

My primer was celebrating gardens, hard work, and climatic conditions with its illustrations, sentences to decipher, calculations of number of apples or cherries, and last but not least poetry.

The poem is about "my sister Rain": "sing blackbirds, dance magpies", dance flowers, let's sing all nests; everything that comes from the skies is blessed". Then there are the final couplets that I loved to say because they are music in French and I am not able to write the equivalent in English:

Sur des tapis de fleurs sonores,
de l'aurore jusqu'au soir,
et du soir jusqu'à l'aurore,
elle pleut et pleut encore,
autant qu'elle peut pleuvoir ;

puis vient le soleil qui essuie,
de ses cheveux d'or,
les pieds de la pluie.

(Upon carpets of resonant flowers,
from dawn to sunset,
and from sunset to dawn,
she still rains and rains,
as much as she may rain;

then comes the sun who dries,
with his golden hair,
the feet of the rain.)

Dripping rain and dripping laburnum and wisteria. Showers of rain and showers of flowers. Scented water on the earth with the fresh aroma of well-tended gardens and honey scented, heady fragrance of myriads of purple clusters of flowers amidst the buzz of the first bees. Faulkner: "It was a summer of wisteria" in Absalom, Absalom! Pure music of words evocative of coloured waterfalls and  sonorous scents.

Bubbling, heady, fizzy, happy!

Every year, I feel the urge to celebrate spring, renewal, rebirth of the earth. This is pagan and religious. The yearly cycle of seasons is the same as the religious cycle of liturgies, whatever the religion.

With some tears and a laugh, I shall take down again The Enchanted April (Elizabeth von Arnim) and read it once more. It begins with rain and wisteria as well.

(official trailer of the film)

Yes, it is high time to awake like the birds and to embrace the world.
We are called to be reborn in the new morning of the earth.

(Chanson du matin - Edward Elgar)

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