I am on a path so overgrown with trees that it is pooled with darkness. On this equinox, I plan to walk from darkness into light. For many reasons it has been a challenging winter. I’m finding it impossible to slough off a melancholy mood. The move towards spring has been a sluggish one. I find myself wearied by routine, by effort, by restless sleep. The winds have blown but they haven’t blown my mood away. I need a symbolic change. I start my walk on the twilit path with hope ahead of me. There is a robin singing. It is always beyond me, distant and mournful, leading me on.
I emerge onto the wide waggonway. My eyes squint as they take in light. Not only the light of day, but also the froth of blossom. Delicate spindly stems and a cornucopia of clotted branches. It is blackthorn time once more, dark stalks with fierce thorns surging into bloom to herald the true beginning of spring. Its companion, hawthorn, will not blossom yet for weeks, but the hawthorn is the first tree to burst its pearly green buds into leaf. They soften the landscape, these sister trees, letting us know that soon the bones of the earth will be clothed.
Spring is a time of hope, yet it is also a time of sorrow. There is a dark undercurrent to this season of potential. Only a tiny proportion of seeds ever grow into the plants they were meant to be. Only a small proportion of birds live beyond their first year. Many of those seeds will remain in the darkness of the soil, perhaps to bloom years from now, perhaps never to bloom at all. Many birds will never hatch; many will never have the chance to fulfil their potential and fly. The conditions must be just right for life to take hold, and for some, those conditions will never be right. This is the sorrow of spring: all the lives that will not be lived.
The landscape is slowly beginning to yellow with dandelions and coltsfoot. I saw my first bee last week, a buff-tailed bumblebee on lemon mahonia flowers. A cloud of pollen beetles swarm my mustard poncho, attracted to the colour because they think it offers nectar. The goat willows droop with yellow-green catkins like hairy caterpillars.
Someone has hung suet balls from the trees and a flutter of tits crowds them, while a dunnock sweeps up the crumbs beneath. Ducks fly overhead, already coupled. The ponds are empty; the water birds have retreated to the undergrowth. There is a small meadow of butterbur flowers, like miniature purple fir trees. Later in the year this space will be choked with their monstrous leaves and giant stalks of hogweed.
Spring is chaos. Spring is joy. Spring is messy and exuberant, dangerous and thrilling. To us it is bird song and blossom, light and warmth; to our neighbours it is life and death.
I’m considering giving up on a story. It’s an idea I’ve had for a long time, after a chance encounter with the elderly man who would be its protagonist. I rarely give up on a story once I begin. If I take up an idea and begin to tell the tale, it usually comes to a conclusion, satisfactory or not. My seeds are ideas and vignettes written in notebooks. They too wait for the right time and conditions to bloom. But it seems the time for this story has passed. It has begun, but I can’t find a way for it to end. I wonder how many seeds of stories are out there, stories that will never be told for want of the right conditions. Maybe they will wither and never be born. Maybe sometime and somewhere they will find their way to creation.
In nature nothing is wasted. Seeds can live, ungerminated, for hundreds of years, until the time is right. Those lives lost in the wreckage of eggshells and fledging will help other creatures to reach their potential. There are two ponies grazing in the country park. Exmoor ponies that visit to clear the tough vegetation so that the conditions are right for wild flowers to grow. The ponies clear the way for those flowers to reach their potential, so that they, in turn, can help scores of tiny creatures to reach theirs.
A few days after the equinox, I see my first butterfly, a gaudy peacock fluttering along a path in the dene. Marsh marigolds light up the burn with luscious yellow and scores of daffodils brighten the grass. A pair of long-tailed tits flit back and forth across the cascades, digging for insects in the rim of a grimy streetlamp. Cherry blossom adds its opulent blooms to the blackthorn. These are the lucky ones, that have become what they were meant to be. I am still melancholy, but I feel the call to action nevertheless. This season of potential in nature coincides with a profusion of submission opportunities, so my stories are dispersing once more, perhaps to fulfil their potential, if only the conditions are right. Where one life ends, another will always blossom. Where one tale halts, unwritten, there will be another, ready to take its place.