The mountains collect little snow, if any, during the winter. From the library balcony I can see on a cool, drizzly afternoon, a cloud pass through the Cascades and then reveal its peaks, dusted in snow like powdered sugar. Standing against a clear sky for only an hour or two, the white cover melts away and the land's natural gray greeness returns. Awakening oaks, maples, redbuds and alders are filling out nicely; spring needs little encouragement—just a few more minutes of daylight, and the blitz comes running.
The valley greens first. The brush along the creek fills out, promptly reconditioning the path with shadows and colored drops of red maids and polemonium. Crocus, tulips and daffodils around the house seem to pop up over night. Wild herbs and grasses stab through the damp dirt and open up in the sunlight. The mimosa even looks larger, the branches yield new sprouts and reach again for the upstairs window.
Spring colors blossom indoors as well. Tablecloths trade places: yellow and sky blue patterns come out where the standard off-white poly/cotton had lain the day before. In some cases spring-colored sheets and blankets, shower curtains and drapes are brought out. Windows are washed. Spring sunlight illuminates the indoor colors, makes the place look more like an ice-cream parlor than the wintery parlor of the Windsor & Sons' Memorial Chapel.
house is now ready for its first spring airing. And I am almost motivated to
spring clean the house entirely. I'll open all the windows and doors within the
house. The throw rugs I'll shake outside and drape over the hood of my car
airing out itself in similar fashion on the driveway. I'll do a final load of
long-sleeved laundry and box away my winter wardrobe until September when I'll
probably toss it into the Goodwill drop box. Tomorrow, for that matter, I'll
probably head north to
The library for some reason gets louder. More people come in and the whisper rule goes unobliged, swept out the sliding glass door and onto the balcony. Outside voices come up over the parapet and into the room. People stay for shorter periods of time and turn pages more quickly and more loudly. People at the research counter stretch more, sigh more, clear their throats more, shuffle their feet more, crack more knuckles and drop more books and papers. Only the two lounge chairs remain unchanged. Their magical, sleep-inducing powers are reconfigured for spring weather and folks adapt for quick naps in the fresh air and the natural light. Sometimes people will hum, take a magazine onto the balcony and whistle. The library is filled with a sense that someone soon will be rushing in with fabulously good news. We don't wait for it. We know it will come. But we can feel it already here.
in the town square are dressing up tables outside now. They've hired new staffs
of high schoolers to mop the awnings, wash the sidewalk furniture and pretty up
the tables and ceramic pots with violets and pansies. Townsfolk come first for
complimentary deserts, ice-water or tea. They sit in the cool outside sharing
opinions about the fresh season and its following summer:
businesses are doing the same: taking to shop windows soapy sponges and
squeegees and polishing displays for tourists and passers through.
unaccustomed to its forbidding nostalgia and unwilling to live within its
archaic personality, one might become easily restless here. There's no cable
TV, night club or structured entertainment at all. Entertainment is a personal
responsibility that every resident must be willing to accept. There is,
however, a reading group that meets at the library—if you consider reading
groups entertaining that is. There's also a kind-of co-ed little league for
school kids in the summer. The students and members of the community put on a
musical every spring and The Christmas Carol every December. The church has a
very active choir whose conductor owns the local gas station and video store
with none of the latest hits ever seen there. But there is nature here and
antiquity. And that is enough for me and the shopkeepers downtown. But in the
fresh season when everything seems to change just enough, just a little, people
around town become eager for the exuberance of outsiders coming through the
mountains. They are coming for the sea and to pick up souvenirs and mementos of
the ghost town said to be just barely living.Yet in the fresh season and in the
I'll have lunch at one of several town-square restaurants. They feed locals at
half price and much better meals than I could ever prepare for myself. I'll
bring a separate lunch back to the library for Mangan's Sister, often a scoop
of tuna or some cheese and pieces of chicken. At some restaurants I don't even
have to ask, they treat her as an extension of myself, like a dependent or a
co-worker minding the library in my absence. I do not doubt that by virtue of
her name some uninformed restaurant workers might think of her as someone's
human sister. This is especially clear when I return to the library, open the
bag and find a basket of onion rings and a pickle. They probably think I'm
terribly insensitive to never give her a lunch break and to never call her by
her proper name. But some locals have been assuming this for years, I can't
possibly at this point admit to them that Mangan's Sister is a cat. By now it
is beyond my responsibility to provide for them the truth especially since
jokes like these are played on newcomers by established citizens. I wouldn't be
at all surprised if they were telling the summer hires about the strange cleric
who keeps a young girl trapped in the library above the mission. My sanctuary
has humorously acquired a reputation like the
The fresh season is not always the most honest season nor the most level headed. It is the smile season. And the smile can be the season's most deceptive personification. Lovers claim the spring. Even the wallflower spreads its petals and opens to the pep and optimism that a fresh start artfully professes. It is the impetuous season, the rash season, the excuse for playing season: the winter was too long; the air is too crisp; the sunlight is too yellow; the shadows are too seductive; the motion is too alluring. Springtime moderation is too unreasonable. When April comes, the winter fever leaves whispering his last tempestuous demands at the doorstep where it is trodden underfoot by the new doormat announcing nothing but welcome...welcome.
Last night I fell asleep with the window open and was just too comfortable to get up and close it once the alarm sounded early this morning. Mangan's Sister usually wakes me around sun up, but this morning she refused to move. It's Sunday and I had planned on going to church, something I'll only commit to in the fresh season when the chapel is crowded and I can sit in the back in case I have to leave early. Perhaps I'll make it next week when the townsfolk will greet me as though I've never missed a Sunday service, as if I were Quasimodo of the old mission. For most of the day I lounged around in my bed clothes. Around ten o'clock, I settled down by the bay window, sipping cranberry juice from its quart-sized carton and gazing through the window at the street and at the mailbox I just remembered hadn't been emptied all week. Wild daisies fanned out everywhere along the road. The wind was calm. The glass was cool against my forearm but the room was dry, airy and more comfortable than it had been in months. The road was quiet; my neighbors must have made it to church, so when I saw two women approaching my house, I sat up closer to the window, trying to get a better look, to recognize them by the way they walked and moved.
Both strangers were probably retired or at least advanced in years enough for me to think so. They reached the end of my driveway and stood near the mailbox as though they were neighbors and stopped by the roadside to chat. It also looked as though they were walking home from Mass or somewhere they had been together. They just stood there talking for what seemed to be ages. I almost expected them to open my mailbox and bring me my coupons or whatever litter they might have found inside.
One of them pointed to the dying chinkapin and then towards the roof. She then motioned to other parts of the property, behaving for her companion's benefit like a tour guide. They chatted for a long time pacing across the street never wandering far enough for me to change windows in order to see them. Both women were handsomely dressed. Not like your average tourist, these women were dressed in casual business attire. Were it not for their ten�nis shoes and cameras, I'd have thought a real estate agent was showing my house to a prospective buyer. I got the impression that the taller, more attractive lady was somehow familiar with the place, describing or explaining certain features of the property—how everything has changed, how the town and the house used to be before I moved in and the artist was still alive. The tall one then touched the mailbox more fondly than one would usually expect. They stopped talking and the small one crept around the side of the house, trying it seemed to sneak a glimpse of the backyard and maybe the creek beyond. The tall one seemed not to notice her. Caught up in her own thoughts, she stood alone caressing the mailbox with her fingers as though it were the cheek of a sick child or friend.
squirrel scurried across a power line just above her. She looked up but seemed
unimpressed with the rodent's acrobatics. It must have been awkwardly
distracting, like someone coughing at a funeral, a growling stomach or an
anxious foot scuffing the floor during a moment of silence, during that
personal time we take in public hoping for some unknown phenomenon to take away
the feelings of loss when a loved one dies. The feelings are no different than
when a part of us dies or changes making us strangers to ourselves. It is the
same phenomenon we pray for when our alter ego disappears and we become
unbalanced and uncertified like a one- sided coin. But the fresh season in
house has a secret history and part of its mystery belongs to the stranger
beside my mailbox. I doubted that she returned to visit an old house, a town or
a former friend or sister who may have lived here. Yet I believe she came to
revive a history that for her may have been fading. She was a strong woman; I
could tell by her resolve to face a memory that will never again be real. She
respected her memories, she reverenced them and prevented them from dying no
matter how punishing their echoes resounded. Just watching her made me remember
my own past, made me regret not knowing the artist who once lived here. Before
the stranger came, the artist was my fantasy companion. She was my secret
history that existed only because I imagined it, because I conjured it up in a
bunch of vignettes to make
The squirrel reached another rooftop. The stranger put on her sunglasses and walked cautiously around the side of the house to my backyard, perhaps, I thought, on her way to the creek. Like the squirrel, I immediately scurried to another window at the back of the house. My sudden burst startled Mangan's Sister who woke abruptly from a nap beneath the telephone stand. She stood quickly and jumped up a few steps toward the artist's studio. I knew I could see better from the upstairs window but worried that the stranger might catch me spying at her through the sparse branches of the mimosa. It was easy for me to imagine her and the artist planting the tiny tree more than a decade ago.
the edge of the kitchen window I watched the pair undoubtedly discussing the
life of my old house and the life of their friend who once possessed it. As I
suspected the taller of the two paid special attention to the mimosa, perhaps
the only mimosa in the entire state strangely able to tolerate
The tall one pointed at the tree and the upstairs window from the far edge of the backyard. She made other larger gestures for the sake of her story and companion and spoke rapidly, it appeared, while swinging her arms and hips like she was downhill skiing or dancing the twist. They both laughed riotously and I wondered if something equally humorous had happened here a long time ago when they planted the mimosa and maybe the mailbox and the daffodils out front. Their laughter made me smile. Mangan's Sister must have noticed and jumped up on the kitchen counter. Purring, she rubbed against my elbow, arched her back and then stared out the window with me. She too was interested in the strangers.
shorter one took a picture of the tree and the back of the house. The other
just stood there, remembering the house and the tree before the mysterious
event that distanced her from
The spring blitz brings a recognition or remembrance of things out of the ordinary, of things raw and exciting, of things likely to happen only once or never at all outside of fantasy or imagination. The blitz comes attacking the hibernating self, creating dreamlike persona that refaces itself every spring. Without the spring blitz, I would be forever trapped here, living without a complete personality, waiting for something dramatic to happen just enough to complete me, to finish defining who I am supposed to be. But secretly I feared becoming a ghost like the artist haunting a familiar place, unable to leave because I am not yet whole and not yet completely dead. Like the artist, I feared just waiting here in my living room or my kitchen or my bedroom or in my hallways and the room upstairs for something that would never happen or for someone who would never come. I feared waiting forever for something alive to die, to somewhere make room for me to live again.
I watched the women leave through the sprouting brush along the creekside and wondered with Sister if other parts of my personality and character would rediscover me before finding another Valencia to live in, another Valencia that is whole, that is real and always alive.
no idea what they talked about on their way back to the town square. But I'm
certain they noticed the redbuds and the alders thickening along the creekside.
They may have stopped to pick a few wild blackberries or to photograph a
colorful patch of primrose or baneberry or to admire a muskrat or a colorful
jay or finch. The fresh season is especially generous to travelers unused to
our indigenous wildlife; its very complexion is