Opening Like Hands

From the Willow Room in the Prince Conference Center at Calvin College, one can see willow trees.

They stand at some distance from the building, at least one hundred yards away, and during the lecture on self-editing a manuscript, I watched these trees. They were huge. Their branches were many. And all of these branches–those fine, pliable, long willow branches moving in the wind–were yellow: the beginnings of leaves.

My mother says that willows are the first to get their leaves in the spring and, in the fall, are the last ones to lose them.

***

Heading home from Michigan on Saturday, we drove through West Virginia and saw that spring had come to the woods.

The trees themselves were still empty. The mountains all around us were like heads with crew-cuts, I said: their trees stood straight and bare as sticks, as bare as close-cropped hair. Between them we could see the forest floor exposed, like so much scalp.

But spring is a todder: it starts knee-high. The green creeps along the forest floor, appearing first in shrubs and bushes.

At home, we had that stage weeks ago, and then the trees sprouted the pinks and incandescences of seed and flower. Over the four days we were gone, I expected this would change. Once it starts, it seems to me– and no matter how many times winter comes banging back into the room– the green of spring is unstoppable: It will come. It is coming. It’s here.

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***

I don’t like change, and I see this fact as flaw. It’s an evolutionary disaster, really: failure to adapt.

But it isn’t that I don’t adapt. It’s that, when I see the need coming, I simply don’t want to.

***

At home now, from the breakfast room window, I watch again the way the young maple leaves open like so many hands. The beech trees that line the trail, that retreat into the woods, hold their furled parchment leaves close all winter–and then suddenly they shed them. Beech trees stand naked for a breath, for a day, and then they are bursting with green.

Walking the dog, I stop to pull a new-greened branch toward me and gently touch one leaf. It is thin and pale or deeply green. And it is fabric-soft, like wet paper, like infant skin, like a fine layer of tissue torn from the roof of your mouth.

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***

I have watched many springs make their entrance. I am never tired of it. When the seeds and flowers and green start to come, it’s like I can’t tear my eyes away. I’m distracted by the green everywhere along the side of the road, compelled by the growing green outside my bedroom window.

When my daughter-in-law and I departed for our four-day trip, I regretted that I would miss some of the approach of green.

***

There is the change that blind-sides and devastates, the change that means grief. No one wants that kind of change–and while we have known that type before, this is not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about the kind of change that means growth and life and that still and nonetheless, I so often do not want. We have had much of that kind of change around here lately with yet more to come, and all of it has been very good.

***

I wonder if I watch the oncoming green because I’m hoping for something new in it, something I’ve never noticed before. On Monday I discovered that the newborn leaves of the pin-oak are pink and even a pale magenta– only on their edges, and only when they are very, very new.

But I like what is familiar in it, too, of course. The maple leaves, as I said, opening like hands, and then the wind comes along and moves them, and I stand there watching them longer than is reasonable because it is just so beautiful.

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