© Vincent Hostak
Music of the Thaw
One October day this season, after a brief but heavy snow, I took an afternoon break to walk the Botanical Gardens. The sun was back. The sun was invincible. I had thirty-five minutes before a meeting at a coffee shop.
Snow was sliding from the high treetops and it was almost treacherous to visitors at times. The trees here are towering giants and often have majestic names to match. Here is the Bigtooth Maple. There is the Nikko Fir, whose name is Japanese for “victory for the people.” A southern red oak stands ninety feet aside the Waring Mansion on the garden grounds. These trees, I’ve learned, are in a registry of things called “Champion Trees.”
I’m here for a dramatic moment I didn’t anticipate.
A thaw makes strange percussive music. One moment it’s wire brushes on a muted snare as a breeze wakes the branches at the crest…
…the next it’s the returns of soft mallets upon a tympani, as fragments of an aerial bound snowdrift pour and collect upon the pavement.
More rolls like these continue, slighty off cadence, like echoes of the first, the second, the third…until the slow moving avalanche is exhausted from tree to tree. A like chorus returns from trees hidden from sight on the opposite side of the Orangery and Tropical Conservatory.
There is a hissing as the crystals which fell from the crests sizzle on the pavement. There is soon a mist briefly obscuring mid to late-day walkers.
These are well kept acres, but winter makes them wilder. A forest which is rarely observed can actually be heard. At other times all senses are fastened to the show feet below your head near the concealed soil. The bees and sparrows may be awake and here, but can’t be heard above the music of the thaw.
The roses and dahlias are still abundant and full, but are also laden with snow.
Many rebounded back to form, before my eyes, after the three o’clock sun steamed away the remnants of an overnight wintering.
Camus’ might be the only appropriate voice to accompany the moment: “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”
“And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes, against me, within me, there’s something stonger- something better pushing right back.”
My attention has returned to the garden level. I admire the rugged flexibility of these flowers. They bow their heads, but remain upright. I don’t mistake this for polite behavior. It is a show of something else: patience, tolerance, a vitality that won’t be suppressed.
They only appear impossibly fragile, as if their petals might fall with slight coercion. But they are holding more than their weight in snow. It’s like a carnival trick, rehearsed and performed over and over before mid-winter.
It’s only after the incremental punishment of multiple freezes will their forms wither, their petals contract, their hues pale from their native riot of colors to those of an observer’s flesh: bronze, coffee, or dull cream. But, then, there is “something stronger” within these “pushing right back.” The flowers are not eternal, but perhaps the closest thing we’ll see to the supernatural endurance of nature the poets attempt to teach us.
Instinctively I know they will emerge from the same plant in the Spring. They don’t incubate from seed. It will be like the return of a small caravan of circus performers springing from the root stock.
My 35 minutes are up.