In his 1922 poem “The Wasteland,” T.S. Eliot wrote, “April is the cruellest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land.”
I first read that in college, and the line never made sense to me, until this year. It perfectly describes the April we’ve been having. (Except, of course, for the lilacs. But the “dead land” part is spot on.)
At the time of this writing — Monday — we don’t have lilacs, or even crocuses. The ground’s not entirely bare yet. “Cruel” is exactly the word that comes to mind.
Normally, I write my “I can’t believe it’s still winter” column in early March. It’s part of my annual series, which also includes July’s “Boy, it sure is hot out” and November’s “Winter: Here we go again” columns.
This year I had planned to skip the weather column entirely. I was getting sick of copying the same old text: “It’s cold for extended periods of time. In Vermont. I certainly never expected this.” But that was back when I thought winter would be over by now. As I type these words, it is not.
But it’s possible — likely, even — that as you read this, spring has in fact arrived. This week’s forecast was calling for increasingly warm temperatures, with some sun and some rain. That’s just right for breeding lilacs and whatnot. With any luck, you’re enjoying a much more promising landscape than the one I’m currently looking at.
On Sunday, I went to the garden center to shop for seeds. Normally at this time of year, I have to fight my way past throngs of eager gardeners who, inspired by a 60-degree day or two, are running around the store bearing flats of pansies and bags of potting soil. Instead, I saw just a few subdued shoppers.
The people perusing the racks of seed packets were, like me, wearing layers and eyeing the colorful displays with skepticism. We were there not because sunshine and balmy air had inspired us to start seedlings, but rather because, according to the calendar, it was time. I checked old entries in my garden journal and found that, sure enough, spring had happened every single year (going back to 2006, anyway). Odds were, it would come around this year as well.
Still, on Sunday, not a person in that store would have put $20 on it.
But of course everything’s different now. Between the time I wrote these words and the time you’re reading them, Vermont got spring. Right?
I can just imagine what you’re experiencing right now: Bright sunshine, singing birds, gentle winds. It must be wonderful. Here I sit, bundled up in a heavy sweater and wool socks, and you’re slathering on sunscreen and flipping burgers on the grill in between rounds of Baggo.
Tell me: Are the crocuses up? Have you heard the peepers? Are you going out for creemees after dinner?
I can’t wait to be there, too, to smell the soil as it warms up under the heat of the sun. To see pointed tulip leaves poking up through the ground. To feel a warm breeze on my bare arms, exposed for the first time since Labor Day. You are so lucky.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I know — from reading the “Ways of Seeing” column, mostly — that for the sake of inner peace I should live in the present. I should stop fixating on the glorious, colorful spring you are no doubt delighting in and start appreciating the lifeless and monochromatic world I am stuck with as of this writing.
Let’s see. Right off the top of my head I can think of two things I’m grateful for. One, what with all the dull weather, I haven’t had to bother with the inconvenience of wearing sunglasses. And two, dealing with all this mud is keeping me from fixating on the remaining patches of snow.
That’s all I’ve got.
In just a few days, however, I’ll be right where you are, enjoying a not-bitterly-cold weekend and maybe even daring to go outside without a coat on.
In the meantime, I’m going to go back and reread “The Wasteland.” I love the imagery of April breeding lilacs. I just want to make sure Eliot doesn’t saying anything about April breeding mosquitoes.