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Guest Commentary

Robert C. Eaton


I find, now that I am older, that I am growing wary of spring. Each year its chaotic energy unsettles me a bit more. As the days grow longer and the world stirs to life, I l find myself increasingly edgy and agitated. After the first warm days in March the juniper trees in the yard release clouds of pollen that inflame my sinuses and bronchi and wake me, congested and wheezing, in the middle of the night. In April crickets invade the garage, chirping incessantly from hidden crevices; spider webs, spun overnight, catch me in the face when I shower in the morning; and on the back step the cat proudly displays her first trophy of the season, a mutilated deer mouse. Then, in May, moths appear at dusk in multitude, straining with ecstatic frenzy to reach the house lights through the screen door and windows. By this time the atmosphere is charged with electricity, and I feel as if the world is wired into my nervous system, causing my limbs to tingle and twitch.

It doesn't help that I now live in a part of the world - northern New Mexico - where the springs are not particularly pretty. The high desert may possess an austere, almost geometric beauty, but the native wild flowers are puny and hardscrabble, and the springtime weather is notoriously fickle. The wind sometimes blows for days without relief, casting a pall of brown dust over the landscape; the sky is often smeared with leaden clouds; and it is not unusual for a fast-moving storm to bury my wife's carefully tended daffodils under three or four inches of wet snow. 

In the hill country of central Texas, I am told, springtime is more benign. Bluebonnets carpet the highway medians, creeper vines drape the pasture fences, and the fragrance of mesquite flowers permeates the air. But even here atmospheric moisture from the Gulf of Mexico can collide with cold-air masses that sweep down the Great Plans, producing violent thunderstorms, crop-shredding hail, and cyclonic winds that can rip apart houses and hurl tractor-trailers into concrete overpasses.

I know remember, with fondness and nostalgia, other springs in other places. Gentler, balmier seasons. When I was a boy, I lived in Virginia, and springtime there were glorious affairs, splashes of color - dogwood and azalea flowers - on a shimmering green canvas. Tadpoles teemed in leaf-bottomed ponds, and mockingbirds trilled on fence posts. Spring was my favorite season. The air was tonic, and on luminous days in April or early May, exploring the woods or creek near our house, I sometimes felt that I was discovering the secret of life on our planet.

Spring, as people often remark, is the reason of youth. The two go together because both are sources of energy and fecundity, and one stimulates the other. When the weather warms and the grass greens, young bodies and minds can do nothing but play. It is the way of the world. This volume, then, filled with the expressions of youth, appears at the right time of year. In addition to showcasing its contributors' vitality and fertile imaginations, it marks the earth's journey around the sun. It is the testament to the rejuvenating power of spring and, for some of us who are older, a reminder of what we have, involuntarily and with regret, left behind.