Spring, I once read somewhere, is not guaranteed to be in the best of taste. That is especially true of that period of the season we’re in now — what might be called “High Spring” — Spring just before it overflows into Summer. Spring at the point of its most unstinting haste and gush. Its colours clash. Its chaos of greenness is in overload. It has no skill whatsoever in the art of understatement.
This year the season has progressed with restraint, lingering with some dignity through careful, almost contemplative stages. But now, tossing all care to the winds (and the rains), it “comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.” I am not quite as disenchanted with Spring as was Edna St. Vincent Millay. In fact, I still find its “rush with richness” a stirring, if startling, business, and I happily re-engage with Gerard Manley Hopkins on the subject. “What,” he asks, “is all this juice and all this joy?”
This returning season remains an insistent reminder of an underlying and profoundly constructive inevitability. All the same, if we forget what it is like from year to year, and expect Spring to be kempt and polite, we are liable to find ourselves rudely taken by storm. I have been, this year.
Earlier today, I looked around and thought “It’s here!” It has been for a while, actually, although one might be forgiven for forgetting, what with the recent drop in temperatures we’ve had. But as I went for a walk in the woods, I suddenly felt ambushed by a banditry of greenness — all manner of greenness, from moss to lime, from butter-yellow to emerald, from copper verdigris to tarnished gold. And not only greens, but also russet and peach, rust and ochre, and even the glorious soft red of new copper-beech hedge leaves fresh against the dark purple-black of last year’s growth. How could I have overlooked this arrival?
I don’t know if it was merely a pressing absorption in work and other important matters this last week that meant I was not really focussing enough on things outside. Forgetting, mistiming or miscalculating is an exigent dread for a project manager. It concentrates the mind like imminent hanging. In no time, you can stop noticing that outside the sun happens to be brilliant and that trees, shrubs and grass are scintillating in a swiftly developing natural drama. It makes our indoor efforts slightly pathetic. What on earth are we all doing inside on a day like this?
But my walk in the woods today fixed that. There, in all its utter, upstaging, overacting, candy-floss glory I beheld a double-flowered pink prunus in full bloom. It is a tree with a trunk that has developed into an impressively big bole, wrinkled and seemingly age-old like an elephant’s leg. Yet out of this unpromising column of wood — as if it were a gigantic plain brown cardboard canister for an immense public-display firework — spattered and exploded with astounding extravagance billow upon billow of strawberry ice-cream blossom, an overblown accumulation of excessive flowering.
I should have realised what it portended. It represented High Spring, this outrageous canopy, this impossible dowager-duchess hat. A crass shout of oversweetness. Implausible, preposterous… and (although I was reluctant to admit it) somehow glorious.