Today is Easter Sunday. Millions of church-goers are heading off to services, dressed in their Sunday best. The story of death and resurrection is an ancient tale that stretches back in time long before the Christian version, and my guess is that one would be hard pressed to find a culture from any period in our history that didn’t celebrate the arrival of Spring.
Five years ago, our family left big city living and moved to these 4 acres on a wooded hillside, nestled among the trees of the pacific northwest. For the first time, I was living close enough to Nature to start noticing and experiencing the cycle of life. We arrived at the end of February and, eager to get to know our property and the flora and fauna that lived here, I spent many hours walking in the forest and open areas around our home. I discovered vanilla leaf when I noticed dozens of shoots rising out of the forest floor like a tiny army of green sticks. I found wild nettles, and pacific bleeding hearts, and western trillium. I could not get over the birdsong that filled the air – sweet melodies from thrushes and sparrows, raucous raven calls, and the staccato laughter of the woodpeckers.
That first year, everything was new; but each year after that, as Spring came again, I found that some of the new had become the familiar. I saw the same signs of life appearing in the woods and trees. I began to understand how our ancient ancestors must have viewed the world and the passage of time. The notion of a circle, a cycle of seasons, became so much more vivid to me. I felt that sense of comfort in seeing the cycle begin anew each year. There was something reassuring and satisfying in seeing the same sequence of plants rising from the earth after the winter, to hear that the birds had returned safely from their winter journey.
After five years here, I still experience that sense of joy and excitement when I see the signs of Spring. In the winter, we turn inward and thoughts are of hearth and home. But in the Spring, the sunshine and warmth pulls us outdoors and we get to rediscover the plants and sounds that we’d not given thought to for so many months.
Today was such a day. I awoke to a gorgeous sunny morning, and I couldn’t help but grab the leash and take the dog for a walk right away. The birds were singing, and the sun felt wonderful on my face. I saw buds on the bushes all along the side of the open trailway, as though someone had sprinkled green confetti over the landscape. I saw trillium plants, and cherry blossoms, and the long, lush maple blossoms hanging heavy from the trees. I thought about Easter, and the countless generations of people who have lived closer to Nature than any one of us today, how much more powerful and comforting those signs of Spring must have been to them, and how much more a cause for celebration.
Growing up, I spent far too many Sunday mornings sitting in a church, bored and restless, to ever consider doing so of my own accord again. I often take a walk through the forest on a Sunday morning and think about how much more that feels like worship and prayerful connection for me than being within the physical and spiritual confines of a religious institution. The tall, bare trunks of the Douglas Firs rise like columns in a cathedral. The birds are my choir, the scent of the damp earth is my incense, and my heart feels light. It seemed a fitting way to spend this Easter Sunday morning.
As I walked, I thought about the seasonal cycle of Nature and how it stands in contrast to the way of manmade things. Cities and landscapes are always changing and growing. The house I grew up in is no longer there, replaced many decades ago by new homes that hold no memories for me. The tiny farm that sat on my street when I was a teenager, the last of its kind in that neighbourhood, long ago yielded to condos. My university campus has been in a construction boom for 20 years, and even those who still work there comment on how much keeps changing. None of these things ever go back to the way they were. And so I think we modern people tend to view life as linear, as a path stretching endlessly into the future, with no way back to the past and no way of predicting what it will look like in times to come.
But Nature isn’t like that. We get to revisit the past each year. The bleeding heart blossoms that dotted the forest floor last year were all but forgotten until I saw the leaves and buds the other day. I get to re-experience the tender green leaves of wild nettles, the thrill of waking up to a morning filled with birdsong after almost forgetting that such music could be heard. In this worldview, the future is not entirely unknown. I know that the trilling buzz of hummingbirds will become more frequent, especially when the elder flowers bloom. My magnolia tree is about to burst forth in colour. Our forest, which has been bright and open all winter, will close up as the branches fill with leaves and the grasses and shrubs cover the ground with a thick, tall mattress of growth. There is something comforting and reassuring about this perspective, and I understand why our ancestors centred their feasts and celebrations around the cycle of the seasons.
Easter is many things to many people, but for me it is about the celebration of Spring. It is the renewal of life after the death of winter. I can still remember the brackens turning brown and slowly tumbling to the ground last fall, and yet now I see tall stalks rising up, bright green and full of life and the promise of summer. But Easter is also a reminder that life can be viewed as a cycle and not as an endless line stretching ahead into the unknown. I love the connection to the earth that moving here has brought me, and so for me Easter is also now a celebration of thanks for that, for this place that has won my heart and to which I feel more connected than any other place I have lived.