Spring chickens

Spring is the headiest of seasons. The others have their pleasures — the burning stickiness of summer, the melancholy of fall, the crisp silence of winter — but spring is the most straightforwardly and unabashedly ebullient. It is a season of plan-making, promise, and aspiration, undergirded by happy naïveté. The sheer fertility of new growth can be exhilarating. It is very youthful. Indeed, the metaphor of age strikes me as so particularly apt this time of the year that it is difficult not to dwell on it. Being myself somewhere between the “spring” and “summer” of my life, the cusp of 22, the present juncture in time is potent.

In the past I’ve reflected on this metaphor through lens provided by gardening and agriculture. If springtime is when the farmer dwells in the ideal — creates plans, calculates budgets, and plants seed in the bare soil — summer is time to contend with empirical, worldly forces. The lush carpet of lambs-quarter appears between the carrot sprouts; the torrential downpour scours the exposed earth; the crop of spinach is aborted by the deer. The changing limits of the human body shape the possibilities of each day. The idealism of spring is muted, chastened, and turned inside-out (but hopefully not obliterated) by earthly contingencies. In my own experiences working on farms and in gardens, there has been relief, sometimes preceded by desperation, accompanying the first killing frost. The end of new growth means the end of aching mornings picking kale, tedious afternoons hoeing, and forearms stained with the black, itching tar of tomato vines. It is time to retire, to be afforded the opportunity to sit again with the ideals that, after another growing season, have new depths and new wounds.

The span of a life can also be likened to a day. I’m struck by how reliably mornings induce a feeling of calm and hope in me. This is one reason why breakfast is my favorite meal: every bite is preparation, an ordinary ode to the day’s possibilities. At 22, I’m still enjoying my breakfast. Yet one way that a life is unlike a day is that we have only one life. Days and seasons seem to repeat without end, affording time to grow and learn from one’s past. But a life as a whole stands alone, unforgiving in its finality. This finality is what, for example, adds poignancy to the final scene in Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Remains of the Day: the middle-aged protagonist has come to seriously question the value of his life’s ambitions so far, leading him to reflect:

…[F]or a great many people, the evening is the most enjoyable part of the day. Perhaps, then, there is something to his advice that I should cease looking back so much, that I should adopt a more positive outlook and try to make the best of what remains of my day.

About Ben

I'm a young person living in Portland, Maine with abiding interests in philosophy, community, and how to lead a good life in the modern world.
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2 Responses to Spring chickens

  1. Mickey Foley says:

    Whoa! Dude! That’s an amazing essay! I had no idea you were such a great writer. It’s so good I found myself envying your talent, like when Brian reads Stewie’s script and realizes it’s way better than his local-hit play.

    Like

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