Many years ago I told someone, maybe my wife Joan, that God would never kill me before springtime. I figured that if I had endured winter’s blast, I deserved to at least see the dogwoods and azaleas bloom before I died.

Among the last images I’ve chosen for this Lenten daily discipline of writings based on my decades-long hobby of taking pictures is this slide from the early 1970s. The scene is Richmond, Virginia’s Bryan Park. On a weekend in early springtime, the park was filled with visitors, almost all of us focusing cimg022.jpgameras on the floral wonders of the park.

I officiated at a couple of weddings there, and one memory is, as they say, “etched.” At the Friday evening rehearsal for the Saturday ceremony, the bride, standing amidst rampant red and white azaleas, discovered she was allergic to those flowering blooms. An injection of some kind helped her make it through the wedding the next afternoon. So, yes, there is that downside to springtime: allergies.

However, the new life that springs forth from the seeming death of winter offers us the promise that beauty, fragrance, and nature’s bounty can renew us as well as the earth. I have to admit that it wasn’t until my transplantation to Virginia that I paid much attention to spring’s gifts. Was I too young to care about such things as changing seasons? Childhood in Upstate New York, college years in western Pennsylvania, and then that season of maturation, marriage combined with graduate school in Richmond…aha! Dogwoods! Azaleas! Tulips and jonquils. My eyes were opened to places like Bryant Park, Willway Avenue in the city’s “near West End,” and even our own more modest front yard. We made sure the landscaping of our first home in the Bon Air area included flowering bushes and trees.

When we moved to Vermont after 27 years in Virginia, we worried that Vermont might not even have a springtime. It sure took its time coming. Folks there referred to “mud season.” Not very promising at all. Maybe the only aroma we’d enjoy would come from the sugar houses, sap boiling into maple syrup. Maybe the only flowers would be jonquils hardy enough to push their way from frigid earth to warming sun. But here’s what we found so astounding there. They called it “greening up.” And pow! One day (it seemed to us anyway) suddenly the yellow-brown grass turned green. Really green.  And then our neighbors’ front yards were full of flowers, all summer long, as if there were a need to overcompensate for winter’s harshness.

Another thing we noticed about our rural area of Northern Vermont: within a short time of greening up came the yellowing up. Dandelions! Everywhere. And no one really cared. It was as if we deserved and appreciated more color after our white-blanketed winter. Weeds? No, wildflowers, almost as welcome as the blue forget-me-nots that would cover the yard through the summer.

I write this in Lent, and note that the derivation of that term comes from the Old English for the lengthening of days, as in growing minutes of sunlight day by day. The word spring also has Old English roots (no pun intended here, though I am not above that), referring to a “springing up” of nature’s new life, a place of rising and young growth.

This season is not to be confused with Easter, by the way. We in the northern hemisphere do insist on linking Easter’s promise of new life with the wonder of springtime. But my Australian friend Christine Gapes would remind us that “down under” Easter comes in the fall. So there.

Let Easter have its theology and springtime its climatology. One way or another, we can let the lengthening of days here in our hemisphere prepare us for the Day of Resurrection. Maybe in the southern hemisphere, Easter is even more mysteriously surprising, with colorful autumn leaves falling in stark contrast to the rising up of new life that is Easter.

Right now, with our only flowers, the crocuses, covered in last night’s inch of snow, we move through Holy Week, knowing its darkness will be overcome by Sunday’s sunrise, one so bright and promising and stunning that it will be hard to believe. But believe we must!

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