At Large : What the blue spruce thinks
Among the many dramatic moments that make early spring the hottest ticket on-Island, there is the anxious annual excavation of the small peony garden. We were the stagehands Sunday. It seemed to be the right moment - mild, sun-splashed, wind boisterous but not bullying, and family sentiment profoundly in favor of putting winter weariness behind us. These peonies have been faithful contributors for a decade now, but we always wonder nervously whether finally, they will say, that's it, we give and give and give, and what have you ever done for us? We fear peonies may have extraordinarily heightened sensitivity and even prophetic powers. They may know something we don't about tomorrow.
There is a blue spruce beside the driveway. It was a Christmas tree, maybe 17 years ago. That was a mild winter, so we did none of the pre-planting preparation called for if you are going to plant an evergreen in December. But, the ground was unfrozen, and we dug a big hole, filled it with good stuff and watered it till the hose froze. It did well, then it didn't. Whenever we were arguing with one another, whenever the kids were driving us nuts, we surveyed the blue spruce. It seemed to look back. We decided that when it wasn't doing well, we weren't doing well. Sometimes we thought, it's dying. Then we thought, what does that mean for us? Then the spruce revived, and we took heart. Then, after several years during which it was alternately afflicted by dry springs or wet springs or aphids or caterpillars, and when we were also afflicted, though by different pests, our blue spruce straightened itself and began to hum, in horticultural terms. In the house, we regarded the change as a comforting and conclusive judgment on us. We don't worry so much any more about what the blue spruce thinks.
Apparently, we do still worry about the peonies. Weeks from now, when they do their stuff, they will put spring itself to shame. They are the loveliest, showiest, unspeakably desirable, perfect floral creatures. They are the floral analogue to Grace Kelley in her bathing costume in the middle of the hotel lobby at Cannes, in "To Catch a Thief." She makes you think, Cary Grant, who's that bozo?
We don't often discuss our silly, nonsensical reliance on peony prophesy. But Sunday, as we carefully cut away the dead stalks of last year's performance and lifted away the dead leaves and shredded dog bones that overlay the small, round stage on which the peonies preen, we wondered, are they still here? The earth was soft, moist, and warm - a good sign. But, what if they've gone? Of course, they hadn't. There were a dozen, maybe two, inch-high shoots, blushing red, promising. We sat back on our heels and looked at one another, thinking together, I'm sure, well, that's a relief.
I know that in the spring, Vineyard thoughts turn to town meetings and road maintenance. Years ago, they turned to love, but since the '60s, we've learned that love isn't as free as we were told it was, and with the economy hard aground, who can spare a penny for a heartache. But, among most right-thinking people, town meetings predominate only briefly. So many decisions. So much money. All that confusing legal blather in the articles. And no matter how you vote, taxes go up, rules pile up, and who likes arguing with the neighbors, anyway?
If you won't mind a bit of advice, better to clean out the beds and look for encouraging signs of real life and revival. Better to pin your hopes on spring. Better to take one's lead from life itself rather than from the hash we sometimes make of it.