Columns » John Brummett

Spring's opening gala


The celebration of rebirth makes me think about Cecil, the garter snake. … I might have saved Cecil's life last year. Or I might have cost him a memorable meal. I've become something of the aesthete, as you'll soon see. Still, I remain enough of the good ol' boy to mark seasons by sports events. It always happens sometime between the Sweet Sixteen of college basketball's March Madness and professional golf's Masters. It began to unfold by midweek last. Actually, it might have occurred between this writing and your reading. I refer to very early spring's magical and almost momentary Arkansas overlap, or confluence. A few of the heartier daffodils hang around in bright yellow. The tulips fully assert themselves, closing into stately pinpoints at night and opening to bask in the sun by day, revealing reds, yellows, oranges and pinks, sometimes in the same flower. The drab buds of the dogwood trees erupt to reveal the radiant whites of their undersides. The redbuds are really purplebuds, reaching out for the dogwoods to make a canopy. Violets spread a different shade of purple wildly along the ground, multiplying almost before your very eyes. In the background the azaleas aren't yet in anything resembling full and awesome bloom; they always wait for the daffodils and tulips to depart before their full display, so that they may accept all plaudits entirely unto themselves. But they pop up on the occasional bush here and there, adding their infant reds, pinks and whites to this busy canvas of annual rebirth. And if your lawn is right, not infested with seasonal weeds, both the St. Augustine in front and the zoysia in back are only beginning to show flecks of green, and are not yet in need of mowing. So, all you really have to do is stand and enjoy, perhaps with a beverage in hand and a lovingly neurotic dog named Scooter at your feet. In a very few days the daffodils will be finished, the tulips disintegrating and the dogwoods and redbuds evolving to green. The azaleas will take center stage, luring home the fellow across the street who appreciates them and the lingering white and pink dogwood flowers in the way that I treasure more this briefly preceding confluence, and who lives most of the year in New Hampshire but keeps the house in Little Rock for two reasons: April in Arkansas and October in Arkansas. The celebration of rebirth makes me think about Cecil, the garter snake. He is positively charmed by the little waterfall, which he nobly protects from the frogs that congregate at a friend's similar structure, and which keep this friend awake all summer. Cecil will show up soon enough, a little longer and bigger around than last year, startling us with a sudden slither as we reach for a weed in a flower bed. In time he'll make himself more to home, sunning on the stepping-stone nearest the back deck, unbothered by Scooter, who will be unbothered by him, and disappearing casually into the grass only by his own preference and schedule. I might have saved Cecil's life last year. Or I might have cost him a memorable meal. One summer afternoon I was venturing near the composter against the back alley. I saw Cecil on the ground by the picket fence, fully still and seemingly flattened. Scooter and the late, sweet Sissy walked within a millimeter of him and he didn't move. I studied his absolute stillness and thought he was dead. To be sure, I took a twig and touched him. He slithered an inch and stopped. Then, apparently perturbed, he went into the monkey grass. At the very moment of his disappearance, the rat that had been making his home at the composter scurried past on the fence railing above where Cecil had been ever so still. Somebody had had somebody cornered, and I'd fouled up the dramatic standoff. It's a festival of nature's living things at our house, I tell you. And we're just now seeing the dramatic opening gala.

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