City or country, spring announces itself


In our new house in the city, there are bits of spring everywhere. Since we left a house deep in the scrub oak woods, I’ve wondered how spring would seem among the pines, and among neighbors who make their lives here all the time, not just in August.

A visitor from Seattle, where we imagine that the weather rains and glowers all the time, said the other day that she was surprised at how gray the Vineyard palette is early in spring. Her experience of rain and leaden skies in the Pacific Northwest is not the same as ours, I guess. Here the spare, snarling scrub oaks, the cold easterly driving the rain, and the flat landscape inspire gloom. There, the rain, frequent but warm, the geography, rising from the littoral to the mountaintops, the flora, varied and unintimidated, and the clouds (she said), simply inspire.

Maybe, but there’s something to be said for shadbush flowering brightly along the road and especially for the evergreen woods that lift the eye and the spirits from what would otherwise be dullish, very modest spring. The spidery shadbush, a member of the rose family, which is often called wild pear or juneberry, is only beginning to catch the eye, but it’s a signal, as the peepers are, that spring will not forsake us this year. By the way, shadbush, with its white blossom and small dark blue fruit, may be eaten, although it’s slightly bitter.

Here, in the new neighborhood, turkeys are celebrating spring, or else they are wisely relocating themselves to an area where hunting is forbidden. ‘Tis the season for turkeys, and maybe they aren’t the “turkeys” we thought they were.

Diesel, the mastiff, has, I hope, turned his attention from the deer carcasses left over from fall to the Thanksgiving dinner memories that the turkeys evoke for someone as perpetually hungry as he is. But, as Molly says, despite his relentless tracking and hunting, Diesel only captures dead things. Despite his imposing, toothy appearance, Diesel is a patsy. A turkey would have to turn up dead on a serving platter, on the front porch for Diesel to bag it.

But, I suspect spring, because he’s up and wants to be out each morning at about 4:30, because in the restless, pre-dawn hours, while he luxuriates on the sofa he’s not supposed to get on, his poacher-nabbing legacy, now lost in the evolutionary mists, inspires in his vast, echoing cranium a dreamlike sense that he ought to go out and check the property.

He wakens me by appearing at the side of the bed and breathing a ghastly, staccato bath in my face. Early in our residency here, I admit, I let him out to air. But, he took advantage and covered some ground. He found those deer carcasses. Pretending that he’d killed them, eviscerated them, skinned them, and cut them into steaks and chops, he brought the hideous remains home. Now, when dawn dawns upon him, I say, forget it.

Happily, I’ve seen no tent caterpillars. Not yet anyway. They’ve been a deflating sign of spring for several years now. The young caterpillars eat leaves and spin tent nests in the crotch of a tree, usually a fruit tree, often black cherry. The nest grows, and when the caterpillars are mature, after about six weeks, they pupate in silken cocoons visible on trees, on the sides of buildings and on fences. Moths emerge in July to mate, lay eggs, and then die. They have their spring too, I suppose.

As I write this, the sky is overcast, the wind from the east and brisk. It might as well be November. But, as spring is indomitable — it will come — so are Islanders. The yards around here are the winter homes for lots of boats, and the winter covers have come off. Sunday, which was mild and irresistible, I saw one neighbor, sporting in his shorts and tee-shirt a ghostly winter pallor, pressure-washing the family motorboat, in anticipation of bass and bluefish and Middle Ground.

The news is, it’s spring, and we may count on it, as we always do. The critters are hungry and restless, the time is approaching when the gardeners among us must engage them. Nature is giving us a heads-up, and good animals that we are, we respond.