Perceptions of Spring  -  I   

     I've been cheating. I've got spring in a box.

     Years ago, when I had three children under age 5, and winter was turning into a desperate thing for this former forest ecologist, I had an idea. Somewhere, I noticed one of those cute little glass jars holding a green plant with a red berry – probably a hostess present at a Christmas party. I can do that, I thought.
     So that summer I found a ten gallon aquarium tank at a yard sale.
     One stolen hour in late October, when the woods were ready to freeze, I filled a bucket with trowel-scooped pieces of forest floor. They held mosses of varying shades of greens and textures; hardy green creeping plants like wintergreen and partridgeberry; the remnant of a small fern that looked like it might make it; a yearling balsam fir seedling with its dark green flat needles; some bunchberry with its dogwood-like leaves mottled purple from age. I picked up a stone, some rotting orangey-colored sticks, and looked for British Soldiers – the grey-green lichen with the red coats.
     My kitchen floor was spread with newspapers, knuckle-sized gravel from under the outside shower, the empty terrarium and my bucket. It was a magnet for the toddlers. We put the gravel carefully in the bottom of the glass tank, and I layered in the scoops of dormant plant life like a collage. It was a diorama of the woods. After we watered it to keep the plants alive and put on the lid, we carefully placed it on the sill behind the kitchen sink. There it would get a little natural light in the bay window. My spirit was happy; I could look at ten gallons worth of uncovered forest floor during the deepest darkest snowiest days of winter.
      Then the unexpected happened. Spring began to come to my tank:

     I repeat this ritual every year now, on the eve of winter, when my heart is about to sink. And when it is done, I wait, a quickening like hope beating gently in me. 
     The first mayflower spike bursts me open. I proclaim it to my now-teenagers like a new birth in the family. The best part is that I don't know what will come up or emerge next. Sometimes there are woodland grasses, starflower, twinflower.  The ferns put up tiny fiddleheads that slowly unfurl. Pine seedlings stretch up and put out a new whorl of needled branchlets. It's all green! – the best kind of spring green, the kind that lifts me to life like I was a plant myself reaching for the sun.       And then there is more! Beetles emerge (sometimes they eat my tender new plants, which makes me sad but oh well). Teeny little flies, and bigger ones too. Moths. Snails! (without their shells, but they do have those stalks on their leading end). It is just miraculous, and because it is at eye-level, I get to see it as if I was lying on the forest floor with my eyes open from early May through June. 
     I am grateful for my eyes and the way in which they inhale green as nutrition for my soul. I am grateful for glass boxes. I am grateful for beginnings that happen over and over again.