This week in El Paso, we’ve had temperatures in the 80s. Chartreuse tints the mountain range, the pitted cacti, the wispy brush along the Rio Grande. The sun blazes on past 7 to 8 p.m. before melting like boiled apricot jam into the sand and dirt and seemingly endless horizon. Over a weekend, residents changed from jeans and hooded sweatshirts to tank tops and shorts. They’re out more now. Walking the neighborhoods with their pups and basking in the not-yet-scorching sunshine. This is spring in the high desert. It’s subtler than my blossoming Virginia with all her colorful bouquets, dew rainbow mornings and pollen fairy dustings, but it has its own charm.
I’ve been on the road for the past couple weeks. The hustle and bustle of friends and family, airport terminals and rental cars has taken much of my attention away from the splendor of the season—not that I would trade the distraction. I cherish my time with loved ones; but by my nature and profession, I am an individual who loves her quiet, reflective moments. So today was my first morning back at my writing desk. Outside my window, one lonesome oak beside the Rio Grande budded green, a breeze blew down the lane, clods of dirt swirled and stray Chihuahuas chased after the dust eddies. Then suddenly, a wave of nostalgia cresting over me, an indescribably buoyancy, a rhythm, a hum that broke to words. Emily Dickinson’s Poem #812 or “A Light exists in Spring.”
Dickinson writes, “A Color stands abroad/On Solitary Fields/That Science cannot overtake/But Human Nature feels.”
Here in El Paso, I may not see spring as prominently as in my home state, but I can feel it in the small changes: the sweet upturn of the breeze, the current returning to the Rio Grande, blackbirds perched atop the strung telephone wires. It may not sound like much, but as Dickinson points out, it’s not something science can statistically catalogue. It’s nature. It’s a feeling.
I’ve always loved that poem. It skips along in iambic triameter making me feel, through words and characters, the ebullience of the new season. “It waits upon the Lawn/ It shows the furthest tree/Upon the furthest Slope you know/It almost speaks to you.”
The “it” is the Light, but not just any. SPRING Light. I love the personification given to an entity as ambiguous as Light. In my imagination, I see Light as a kind of spiritual sprite brightening the world with hope and restoration. Yes, that’s incredibly Pollyanna of me, and perhaps a tad reminiscent of Rainbow Brite. (I am a child of the 80s.) But that’s the beauty of poetry: each reader is the queen/king of her/his interpretation.
No doubt the upcoming Easter holiday boosts the worldwide rise in natural dopamine. Who doesn’t coo over children in pastels, all frills and bowties, chocolate bunnies and dyed eggs, Aunt Betty’s wide-brim bonnet and Uncle Pete’s seersucker suit? And that’s just the secular side. Should you be of the Christian belief, you’ve got choirs and church bells, sunrise service, Easter lambs, Sunday potlucks and the burgeoning feeling in your chest to raise your palms to the sky and shout, “Hallelujah, he’s alive!” Paralleling this is the Jewish Passover with crispy matzo, Seder dinners, decadent desserts baked warm in Wonder Pots and a Biblical obligation to drink good wine—four cups, no less! All in all, spring is definitely my kind of Lady Light.
This springtime, I’m feeling the sense of restoration and renewal more acutely than years past. First, my husband, who has been away from me at military training, is coming back for Easter weekend. (Today!) I can’t wait to have him home and have already stocked the candy bowl with his favorite caramel-filled chocolate Easter eggs. Secondly, my family has just received the most excellent news that my brother stationed in Iraq for 12 months has his official return date next weekend. He’s an aviator with the 1st Cavalry Division. I’m flying to Fort Hood, Texas, to welcome him home from a desert even more desolate than my own, and I can’t wait to see his smiling face on the tarmac.
It’s been a long year for him and looking back at his life and my own, I see just how much can change in a year. My brother jokes that the heavens have granted him a year back on his life. His birthday is in May and he claims he’ll be celebrating this past year’s age again because technically he didn’t get to live it. It’s a funny idea that in some ways makes sense. He sees the past 12 months as a wormhole of work, a void that sucked him beyond the limits of civilization and is now spitting him back out at the same time it took him. (Note: I come from a VERY sci-fi friendly family. We bond over TV Star Trek episodes.)
Again Dickinson reverberates: “Then as Horizons step/Or Noons report away/Without the Formula of sound/It passes and we stay —/A quality of loss/Affecting our Content/As Trade had suddenly encroached/Upon a Sacrament.”
Time passes, leaving us behind. We feel its loss. We’re saddened and discontented by its departure. But the beautiful thing about this special Light is that it returns every morning, every year. The promise of that coming renewal is what I love most about spring and this poem. Yes, there is a perpetual swapping of life seasons; but thankfully, we live in a world where the laws— the sacrament— of nature are that spring will come again. The Light will return… and so it has.
I hope you all have a beautiful holiday weekend with your family and friends. I’ll be basking in the El Paso sun, thankful for all the blessings around me.
Yours truly, Sarah
A Light exists in Spring
Not present on the Year
At any other period —
When March is scarcely here
A Color stands abroad
On Solitary Fields
That Science cannot overtake
But Human Nature feels.
It waits upon the Lawn,
It shows the furthest Tree
Upon the furthest Slope you know
It almost speaks to you.
Then as Horizons step
Or Noons report away
Without the Formula of sound
It passes and we stay —
A quality of loss
Affecting our Content
As Trade had suddenly encroached
Upon a Sacrament