Man’s heart away from nature becomes hard  — Chief Standing Bear

 

Spring comes again, so welcome after the long winter wait.

I take random inventory: lichen-clad stonewalls laid up by an early farmer haven’t changed. A tired apple tree is horizontal. It no longer has the strength to stand upright. I will wait before bucking it up; perhaps it will bloom one more time since it’s still connected to its roots. The scent of apple blossoms, still weeks away, is as sweetly delicious as anything I can imagine.

We all have roots of one kind or another. Mine go back many generations in this place we call Maine. I watch my frail parents and wonder, can they last another season. Yet I feel younger than ever. It’s an illusion in which I gratefully indulge. I go running lightly, at sunset, then under starry skies, following the moon on the sea.

For me running is not about getting there, it’s about being here, fully alive, inhaling the cool air of early spring. It’s a time of the possible, of anticipation, of finding someone and something to care for, to work for, to love.

I love the tall pines at the foot of our field. Even as friends have come and gone, the trees stay on. I once told woodcutters they should leave them alone, even though they are actually on my neighbor’s land. I had no right to do that, but I did it.

Those pines have started scores of seedlings on the lower field, a field I used to hire a man to mow. In recent years, I’ve just let it revert to whatever nature wants. Is this neglect? Maybe. I don’t need the field, so why bring in a tractor to mow it? I don’t need to control this piece of land or its destiny. I am aware that the field, like me, is changing, growing in different ways. What’s next is not obvious.

The ice is off the pond, the home of muskrat and in this season visited by wild ducks and geese. The pond looks quite natural but a bulldozer dug it 25 years ago. I’ve planted blue spruce, walnut, sugar maples, a peach and several apple trees around the field. Most are surviving. Some trees have died, and that’s not all. Joel would be 27 this May.

He grew up with the pond, the tall trees, stonewalls and vegetable gardens. That’s where he proudly planted, nurtured and harvested his crop. It’s lonely walking through this place that spoke to him so often and speaks to me. My wife plants seeds in the greenhouse Joel designed but never saw. Perhaps in her seasonal chores she sees him once more, a big grin as he held up a carrot in each hand or piled a bounty of colorful squash on the back porch.

We can be so alone when darkness falls.

The raucous redwing blackbirds perch and swoop, amid grackles gobbling seeds fallen from the feeder. Robins peck at the ground, their breasts a russet I like so much I’d paint the house that color. The birds sing continuously, and one day I will hear the peepers from the pond and I’ll drift backward, to the flowers of childhood, the sleepy afternoons of stick ball, sweet iced tea, a crab apple tree blooming in our New York City backyard.

Springtime, when so many things are mating or at least dating. Tennyson said, “a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love,” but with me it didn’t get past fantasy, and I still wish I’d kissed my classmate on the field trip to the park with her bright eyes, long hair, shorts and light blouse. She was ready. I wasn’t.

I can remember the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, years before wife and kids. Sixteen years later, the most exciting Earth Day: a home birth of daughter Chelsea, who has always liked that she was born at home, on an environmental day, delivered by a nervous dad.

Two-year-old Joel snuggled with the newborn, a smile playing on his face.

Two or three generations ago, nearly all children were born at home. Birth is a healthy event; just as the rebirth of plants and trees each spring is a healthy and welcome event. Rivers and streams run high; the sun thaws the hard ground and breathes life into seeds and buds. Fertility. The land has a quickening rhythm, and our collective pulse responds. We race to confront another season in the cycle of our lives.

Soon I can go fiddleheading, snapping the tender green ferns, still coiled, that Native Americans taught us are a delicacy when steamed or fried. In the barn hangs a wooden canoe, another lovely shape, another legacy of the people who were here first.

Standing Bear, a Ponca tribal leader in Nebraska, argued that his people were “persons under the law” in 1879, and he won the case against forced removal of his people, with help from a newspaper reporter and from Bright Eyes, bilingual daughter of an Omaha chief. The reporter later married Bright Eyes, who advocated for Native American Rights until her death. May my heart never become hard.

 

 

By Steve Cartwright, freelance writer from Waldoboro and former editor of Wabanaki Alliance, Maine intertribal newspaper