I often find the concept of time to be a challenge. Some of my happiest moments are ones in which I am not aware of time at all--when I am researching points of fact, happily following trails to dead ends until some of the paths lead to wonderfully satisfying answers. Or when I am gardening, pondering the nature of weeds, of soil, and the paths of the elements through living creatures. I wake to time when I am hungry or cold, and pick up with what the rest of the world is doing at that time of day.
I am aware of "little time", the time that passes from week to week, I am writing, teaching, gardening, and doing the things we all need to do to live. I know a lot of this "little time" has passed and has become "big time" when I know both of my parents have died, my dad at the age of 100 years. I know my father's 5 siblings are also gone, and that seems like the passing of an era. I have even lost cousins, three of them at last counting. But the reality that "big time" has passed doesn't always seem real to me.
The time that enters my soul most deeply, and makes the most sense, is the time shown by the passage of seasons in the plants and animals that I see and hear every day. When it is spring, as it is now in San Francisco, and I drive about and see the many flowering plums, I am clear that time is moving along, and that it has come again to the wonderful time when trees flower and the sun quickens the growth of so many plants. In our Mediterranean climate, it is a second spring, as it were, following the spring of the grasses, when the hillsides turn from gold to green. It is now the spring of the trees. Soon it will be the spring of the warm season annuals as they germinate and grow quickly into summer plants. Then we have summer, which, though not very warm here in San Francisco, does have plants specific to it--the ones that need the longer days and brighter sun it offers. Then we have a brief summer and fall, and then we are back to the spring of the grasses.
I am driven to have tea in the Japanese tea garden in Golden Gate Park at this time of year, and mourn the years when rains fall on the days I could go there to enjoy the plum blossoms. I celebrate the return of the mockingbird. My friend tells me she was taught it was a "trash bird," but oh, when one sits on my roof and wakes me at 4 with its complex song, I can't really be angry, because it is telling me that the spring is here.
The blooming of seasonal wonders connects me to "big time" in all its aching reality and makes me value "little time" all the more.
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough
And stands about the woodland ride.
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now of my three-score years and ten,
Twenty will not come again.
And take from seventy years a score,
It leaves me only fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodland I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
Alfred Edward Housman 1859-1936
Go ahead, change the ages and the times in the poem--I hope I have more than 70 springs too--but the feeling is right, that we should relish the beauty of each season in each year. Go see some blooming trees. Take a walk on a hill and look for wild flowers. Visit the Tea Garden.