UNDERCURRENT OF SOMETHING SPRING

 

For eleven years in the 1970s and '80s, I lived with my husband in Williamson County, Tennessee, back when it was rural, when livestock fencing was the wire kind nailed to cedar posts, not the expensive Kentucky horse-farm type common to that area now. Our neighbors were a few hippies, lured by cheap land and enough solitude for offbeat life styles, and Kings and Campbells and McCords, the farming families who had lived in our valley for generations. White lightning was unofficially available at the tin-roofed general store at the three-way stop. 100-degree days were for trying to cool off in the swimming hole below the bridge over the South Harpeth River.

When our son was born, I quit the town job that was more than an hour away over bad roads and single lane bridges. A major outing for me became the few miles to the Foodland grocery store in nearby Fairview. There were a few hippie moms I visited with, and occasionally on Sunday mornings, I crossed the road for the service at the little white Church of Christ. We had dogs and chickens and a big country garden with rows of corn and okra, beans running up tented poles. But still, I had time at my disposal. A lot of it I spent walking, my baby in a backpack, for hours and hours over the surrounding countryside, walking or just stopping to stare at every growing, wild thing. Hundreds of miles later, I was the picture of health, as they say, and if asked what month it was, I would answer first with what was in bloom.

“Well, let’s see, there’s a carpet of spring beauties in the woods next to the house, so it must be late March, maybe early April,” or “The may apple patch back there on the ridge is up. It’s May. “

When the flashy red/orange of trumpet vine flowers enlivened the fence posts, it was June. If the blackberries turned juicy in the thicket next to the driveway, I could count on it being the 4th of July. The endurance of stiff goldenrod was August; the purples of asters and ironweed, September.

October—well, October was October, hard to miss, the big blast of light and color before the woods and fields nodded off for the winter, at rest under a blanket of broom sedge and leaf mold.

After that, a calendar page with numbers on it was the confirmation that November and December, plus some important holidays, had come and gone; and that the same thing had just happened to January. But near the end of February, when the gloom had sunk to its gloomiest, a purple glow began to permeate the briar thickets and the tips of saplings along the edges of the fields. It was there and it wasn’t, an undercurrent of something spring, the sign that in a few weeks spring beauties would spread like cotton wildfire through the woods, and yeah, it must be March again.

I have never seen that purple glow in a city. But I can feel it in my woodsy corner of West Nashville if I am paying attention, like when Undercurrent of Something Spring welled up and burst right out in weary February, just after I had finished a painting called Snow Day. A few weeks later, I went to visit a neighbor artist and saw her snowy painting Winter Woods, with the same burst of color in the sky at the top.  She said, “That’s spring coming.” We’re pretty certain that we painted those paintings on the same day.