Every year in early May, I spend three to six hours each morning at nearby Mt. Auburn Cemetery. Why? you may wonder. Well, Mt. Auburn, with its woodlands, lakes, and gardens, is a magnet for songbirds during their annual spring migration. They fly in by the hundreds on the way north from South and Central America. Some of them nest in the cemetery; others continue further to northern New England and Canada. But during the small window of time that they grace our local flowering trees and bushes, birdwatchers are blessed with up-close views of the colorful and musical birds of the tropics. Each year, I see or hear something new: a chestnut-sided warbler and a ruby-throated hummingbird having a territorial faceoff; a flycatcher singing next to a kinglet displaying its usually hidden ruby crown; a Baltimore oriole weaving a hanging nest in a tall maple tree; a wood thrush singing its fluted song on the path a few feet in front of me. These moments are magical—a fleeting glimpse into nature’s secret world.
Equally as exciting at this time of year are the perennial plants and flowers that break through the soil reaching to the light. How do they know when to move upward, when to grow stems, leaves, and flowers from their buried roots? It’s a yearly miracle that I witness both at Mt. Auburn and in my own backyard garden. Tightly furled leaves and flower buds appear first, gradually opening to the sun’s warmth and the longer light-filled days. A plant like Solomon’s Seal begins as a blunt grey/green finger pointing up out of the ground. Day by day, the finger slowly becomes a tall thick stem that bends and arches with opening leaves of fernlike delicacy. Beneath the leaves, along the arching stem, small white buds form and eventually open into a line of belled flowers. Swaying in the wind, Solomon’s Seal is one of the special visual gifts of spring, along with lilies of the valley, violets, grape hyacinth, columbine, and so many others.
Year after year, spring flowers and nesting birds remind me of life’s cycles of rebirth and renewal. After a long icy-cold Massachusetts winter like the one we have just experienced, this is a welcome message. Even in the freezing temperatures, even in the dark, life continues. The birds migrate south and return to raise their families; the plants withdraw into the earth to rest before emerging to bloom again in spring. Humans, too, have their cycles, though many of us have forgotten how to align ourselves with life’s rhythms of rest and renewal. If we look to the natural world, we can see that each living being has its own cycle of birth/flowering, rest/renewal, rebirth. In our over-scheduled, busy lives, we often careen out of control and crash in exhaustion. Yet, if we let go of so much trying and effort and allow life to unfold in cycles of activity, rest, renewal, and rebirth, we will feel so much more in tune with ourselves and all of life.
In spring’s wonders, there is great beauty, but there is also great wisdom, showing us firsthand the ever-turning circle of life/rest/rebirth that we too are part of. Something more powerful than our own attempts to control daily life is at play here. If we surrender to the flow of life that is so stunningly visible in springtime, we open ourselves to both inner peace and connection to spirit. As poet Mark Nepo has written so eloquently, “What a powerful lesson is the beginning of spring. All around us, everything small and buried surrenders to a process that none of the buried parts can see…. This moving through the dark into blossom is the threshold to God.”