April 11, 2009
The Vacillation of Spring
In the western Christian world today is Holy Saturday, and I woke with a fierce longing for my mother’s Hot Cross Buns — those incredibly light and hot-from-the-oven creations she baked exclusively on Holy Saturday morning.
Although I now understand that traditionally they are associated with Good Friday, for my family that was a fast day and my mother’s Hot Cross Buns held no resemblance to a ‘fast’ — they were that decadently delicious!
The ground cardamon that she included in her recipe gave off a distinctive and compelling aroma. The ‘crosses’ she etched across the tops of each bun before baking, now were filled with a painted soft white icing. We couldn’t stay in bed for the inviting aroma wafting its way up from the kitchen.
Strange as it may seem, her ‘crosses’ were more like x’s in a tic-tac-toe game, and the remembrance of the lightly interspersed currents inside the delicately sweet bread, was to be indelibly etched on my olfactory senses for life.
Besides the mouthwatering pleasure, I also associated those delicately sweet yeast rolls, and the traditional Easter bread she baked for the next day, with the rising of Christ’s ascension.
Regardless of one’s persuasion, Easter is Spring, and this year Spring is traveling through the Santa Fe region like someone who does not know how to drive with a clutch, as it advances and retreats, jerks and spits, pushes and pulls through the middle of April. One day it’s warm and in the 50’s, while the next day I awaken to ice in the birdbath — a reminder that the Earth too is waking up from the mantle of Winter.
There are days I can sense the heaving of the ground in the effort to cast off the bonds of a frozen darkness. Tulips push up their green bodies out of the bulb, their timing activated by an innate knowing. Shoots of spring garlic are already showing through the ground, and the parsley and oregano are beginning to produce vibrant green new growth.
Here in the western high desert, Spring weather has always captured my attention as it gallops across the land like a bucking bronco, dispensing its filtered sun through a thin ceiling of clouds while simultaneously delivering fast-moving fronts of rain, sleet, snow, and even hail within any imaginable duration of time, whether the intervals be fives minutes or a half hour — all within the course of one day.
Today, I woke to a combination of a soft rain interspersed with snow that covered the mountain range of the Sangres. The dense overcast that has been ‘socked-in’ over Santa Fe all day is now beginning to lift as the wind begins to blow, swaying the trees whose tips are burgeoned with buds of multiple hues of greens and reds.
Several weeks ago we had a weeklong warm spell and the apricot trees so popular all over this town were in full bloom, along with the usual first flowering forsythia bushes. The warmth also enticed a Mourning Cloak butterfly from its winter cave somewhere beneath the crevice of the bark of a tree. I spotted it lighting on an apricot blossom.
Having never seen a Mourning Cloak butterfly before, it was an occasion for the photo that accompanies this article. Through some research I discovered the name and the fact that this is one of the first butterflies to appear in the Spring, that it over-winters as an adult butterfly. This one looks a bit bedraggled for the experience. Now in the Spring, it literally feeds off rising tree sap as the tree awakens and begins to pump its energy up the trunks toward the branches.
The name Mourning Cloak is intriguing, and some sources say it’s due to the dark wings that resemble the traditional woolen cloak worn to funerals in the 1800’s.
If we were to go back and look at the oldest myths and stories about the seasons we would recall that according to the myths, it is Demeter Mother of Persephone who first mourns the disappearance and abduction of her daughter by Pluto, who takes Persephone into his personal kingdom of the UnderWorld, and the reason we have Spring is due to the negotiation by Jupiter between Demeter and Pluto for the release of Persephone.
The agreement reached stipulates that Persephone will be allowed to move from the deep dark world of Pluto’s reign for half of the year, and when Persephone emerges, Demeter throws off her Mourning Cloak of Winter, and welcomes her daughter once again back to the world of Upper Earth.
All the symbols of Spring — the Earth awakening, the ground-frost heaving, green shoots of plants appearing and rising to new life and growth are reflected in the celebration of the Christian world by Christ’s rising from the dead — just as in her mother’s mind, Persephone has also risen from the dead.
Both Spring and Easter hold deep, fond memories for me. In my childhood it meant wearing galoshes or boots over my shoes to school as the mountain streams of snowmelt flowed over the sidewalks and streets I had to walk and cross. The difference between the morning and afternoon temperatures meant wearing a raincoat in the morning and carrying it home in the afternoon.
On those walks to school I had a world of Nature to entertain me, like going past the Spring-flowering Dogwood tree at the top of Kane Street that marked the half-way point of my twice daily journey to and from school, and being enthralled by a huge mountain meadow carpet of millions of tiny pale lavender-pink forget-me-nots.
Spring is a welcome change from the dark days of Winter, and perhaps the changeability also reflects the fickleness of Persephone, who although is glad to see her mother, is not quite ready to settle into a different home away from her consort Pluto for a six month stay.
It seems that this year Persephone needs a bit of coaxing. Perhaps she has not been able to release her attachment to her Underworld home.
I much prefer this version of Persephone, the changeable weather with the Dance of Spring as it comes and goes, ebbs and flows.
Summer will come soon enough.
Labels: Demeter, Easter, Holy Saturday, Hot Cross Buns, Mourning Cloak Butterfly, persephone, Pluto, Spring