Posts Tagged ‘crocus’

Bee-orchidThere are days that fall easily into two seasons, opening with a shimmer of spring heat before leaning back into winter-cold skies and bitter winds by their end, as if at the last moment a set of scales was tilted with the addition of a final, decisive weight. There’s little that is predictable about this span of turning time; perhaps uncertainty itself is the only thing we can be sure of when it comes to the weather – that a day of sunburn and sandals in the garden can just as easily be followed by a fall of brilliant snow as by another decadent show of burnished light. At times it can feel like we’re riding a seesaw throughout the day, never gaining more than a few hours of stillness at either end. Inconstancy is the mid-season’s sole promise.


Yet beneath this vivid and unsettled surface of weather, the abrupt and dramatic variations that visibly define this in-between time, there’s a constant murmur of transformations, the unseen but steadfast shift towards spring. Birds set sail on their long migratory journeys out of sight from us, triggered for the most part by changes in the length of daylight at their departure points, arriving with us one day as if conjured out of thin air after crossing countries, continents and countless travails. Sap rises invisibly through trees, the roots sponging up water, nutrients and minerals from the deep dark earth until we notice the swelling green buds and remember the shape of leaves. The streams in the valley ripple fast, suddenly bolstered by snowmelt that has trickled into rivulets and ravines from the high surrounding slopes, each flake condensed into a cumulative cascade of water by warming air. Even beneath us, after snow squalls and throughout ice-fastened nights, corms, bulbs, rhizomes and roots are pushing new shoots through the cold soil to spear towards a far star. Cusped on the threshold of a new season, we’re witness to just a sliver of this wondrous becoming.

Crocus in snow

Easter, Lesser Prespa Lake

Last week friends came to stay after days of blustery snow heralded the sunlit white blizzard of wild blossom. Their ten-month old son, Nojus, was at that in-between age when he craved more than just crawling but couldn’t yet walk on his own. Instead he hitched himself to a low table or chair for support, hesitantly stepping sideways while holding on with his hands, as if clinging to a narrow cliff ledge high above a canyon. Whenever his mother or father helped him, though, he would strike out with visible glee, jettisoning the table or chair as if it were unnecessary ballast, moving forward in thrall to procession, the simple and timeless joy of steps. I watched how his tiny legs wavered and wobbled, suddenly buckling and crumpling unexpectedly beneath him. And I saw how a deep and infectious smile spread brightly across his face when he rose up on each new attempt. Crawling no longer seemed to fit him whenever he scrambled across the floor again, as though it were just the last days of an old season before the new one began. And then one evening, while his father guided him away from the lamp in the corner of the room that endlessly fascinated him, there was something different about the way Nojus’ legs moved with each step. Something solid and articulate, something secure. “He has so much more strength in his legs,” said his father. “He couldn’t do this at all yesterday.”

Primroses in snow

Hellebore wearing a hat of oak leaves

The pale promise of primroses light the riversides like lowered lanterns. Overnight they could be buried by sudden snow, but at midday, in the sun-melted spaces, a soft petal-glow will shine through, a delicate and persistent gleam. Nightingales are back in the valley again, their bright, staccato songs splashed in a spill of sun; and the silence between phrases, the shaped and beautiful waiting. Swallows zing across the sky like gusts of wind and woodlark song falls like a slow and melancholy rain from the suddenly green hills, all those spears of grass angling skyward, just like the risen hellebore that I find wearing a hat of oak leaves. Willows are crowned by vernal light, each uncurling leaf inscribed by sun along its edges. Throughout the valley a snowstorm of white blossom froths in the cool winds that slope from the mountains, releasing a dazzle of sweet scent that hauls in bees like a net. We are at the edge of the turning world, when days waver like a spun coin until the weight of incalculable change finally tips us into spring. And when I next see our friends’ son he’ll be deep into a new season, walking his small corner of world on his own.

Sun sliver

Blossom season, Great Prespa Lake


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As the year wanes I’d like to mark its end with a few photographs. While place can be dense with the layers of our living, with the accumulated histories of wild creatures, cultures and faiths, the tightly knit webs of ecosystems or urban architecture, sometimes we’re afforded merely a glimpse of it. These images are such glances.

Photographs remind me of short stories, briefly seen worlds, vivid and atmospherically incomplete. The English writer and critic V.S. Pritchett once described the short story as “something glimpsed from the corner of the eye, in passing.” There is something ephemeral about the nature of an image, a moment stolen and suspended out of sequence, a life passed through. While we can never hope to plumb the intricate depths of a place through a single photograph, there is something intangibly evocative about them as well: the fragile intimacy of a moment.

Many thanks to all of you who’ve read Notes from Near and Far this year and brought your breadth of insight and experience to the posts with thoughts, comments and ideas. These connections have been greatly appreciated, and I’d like to wish you all a rich and illuminating coming year.

“Call me Jimmy” was how he greeted us, a few remembered words of English after spending some weeks in New York in the 1960s. Jimmy is a Prespa fisherman, and one of only two remaining year-round residents of the village of Konsko on the shores of Great Prespa Lake in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

The fire salamander was found at the bottom of a well in winter, unable to climb out of the concrete shaft. We lifted it from the water on a pale and ghostly maple leaf and watched it walk off across the February snow.

 Each Sunday, on the outskirts of the city of Korce in Albania, men and women gather to trade and barter the animals they own. They arrive along the narrow roads on carts drawn by mules, meeting on an open plain to try to sell a donkey, a cage full of rabbits, a goat or two. By the end of the afternoon the roads are again full of animals travelling in all directions.

The cardinal butterfly is one of the larger butterflies to visit our garden, especially in late autumn when it is attracted by flowering echinacea and geraniums. This one clung to the edge of a flower, where I watched it throughout the day. By evening I realised it was dying and turned it over to discover its abdomen had been pierced and was now being hollowed out by insects.

Subsistence farming remains common in much of Albania. This farmer in the village of Zagradec on the shores of Mikri Prespa Lake is emptying his barn of hay by donkey, carrying it to his house to feed the sheep stabled in his yard during winter.

The spring crocus begins flowering early. But in the high mountains of the Balkans, where winter hangs on in the shadows of alpine valleys, the crocus crests through the snow to cast its mauve colour about the still white hills.

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