From Gazette spring editorials:
The trailing arbutus is not the first flower of spring — it appears after the skunk cabbage, for instance — but it has as distinctive a place in the emblemology of the spring season as the Easter lily. Its appearance is hailed with singular delight, and with good reason, for in the whole cycle of the year there is no near equivalent of its delicate pink and white beauty, woodland essence, and unforgettable perfume.
Long ago in the sunny days of autumn, before the winter ice and snow, the arbutus budded and prepared for the flowering which is taking place as warm April suns penetrate to the banks where it grows among fallen leaves and matted grass. In favored places, avoiding the wind and catching the sun, the flowers appear earliest of all, varying in color from waxy white to deeper shades of pink.
Almost always the mayflower displays a close kinship for the fallen leaves of the woods. Its own leaves, on long trailers that are in places real roots and in others stems and branches, are partly brown and crisp. Glossy green leaves and leaves of withered brown share the honor of presenting us the mayflower. One must kneel and clear away the debris in order to pick the aromatic flowers with appropriate care.
Because of its habit of growth, this best-loved of wildflowers is too easily torn out by the roots. To pick it carefully and without destroying the plant requires patience that too many predatory humans are unwilling to spare. The result is that the arbutus has been eliminated completely from the vicinity of many mainland towns. It has fared better on the Vineyard but each new generation must be careful to befriend it.
That spring could come without the arbutus seems incredible; these places that have destroyed the mayflower must have come close to destroying spring itself. When we breathe the fragrance of this flower, the almond-fine and never cloying essence, we seem to experience a change like the spring change taking place in nature all around. And going where the mayflower grows, we discover quiet retreats in the woods, aromatic, leaf-strewn hillsides, forgotten wood roads, and dozens of such places where it is good for us that we should go.
The myrtle or common periwinkle is blooming — Islanders and former Islanders do not need to be told where, for where does myrtle always bloom? Under the shade of lilac bushes, beside old stone steps, wherever our forefathers liked to see glossy green leaves and blue flowers in spring. Myrtle stands that great test of the old-fashioned flowers, ability to survive in abandoned gardens and in the shelter of stone walls. It is the ancient love of beauty carrying on independently; it is an invitation to immortality.
A lowly plant, the myrtle, its habit trailing, and with thrift as well as caution. It blooms ahead of most of the wild flowers and asks no more care. An authority says of the myrtle, “It is cultivated but often escapes.” One hopes the myrtle will continue to escape and not be too closely pursued and brought back into confinement. We need this lowly flash of spring blue, this signal from old times.
Everything is all right now. The robins have taken charge of the lawns. At first they showed themselves sparingly; sometimes they were only heard in the early mornings, days before they were to be seen about the dooryards. But now they are back and busy with the immemorial routine of the warm seasons, making their short runs and dashes, peering and seeming to listen, darting their beaks into the grass and finding, one supposes, the first worms and bugs of the year. The robin is the bird that gets the early worm.
Other birds visit the lawns when they become green, but none comes so early or shows the same feeling of proprietorship as the robin. The robin is lord of the home grounds and he knows it; but he is not aggressive or objectionable like the starling, or strident like the bluejay. These are vagabonds and thieves and their conduct proves it; but the robin has self-respect and manners.
Even after a hard winter during which all birds have deserved sympathy, the robins are not thin and emaciated, but fat and well groomed. They must know some secret of thrift that enables them to turn even zero weather to profit, or else our swamps are more hospitable retreats than most town dwellers have imagined.
Someone has remarked that the robins do a disservice by eating the worms that are valuable for their stirring of the earth. But one of the profoundest reasons for the preservation of the race of worms is that the robins need them. Fortunately, there seem to be enough worms to go around, supplying the necessary aeration of soil and also the dietary of the red-breatsed, alert-eyed monarch of the lawn. Long may the coming of spring be celebrated by his timely arrival.
Compiled by Cynthia Meisner