As a first generation American, I have the privilege to remember learning English, which is essentially -- but not technically -- my first language. My parents maintained that my first exposure to English was via (what else?) television and that I did not speak English at home until after I was in kindergarten. I can still remember learning certain, basic English words in school, and to this day I tend to slightly "germanify" my speech, one being via intonation, the other by mispronouncing words from my extended vocabulary, which were imprinted only by silent absorption from the countless books I devoured in my youth. Books were not only my window to the universe but also my first English teachers.
One book that stands out as having forever imprinted itself upon me is Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden. I have no idea how often I read the book (my copy was the one illustrated by Tasha Tudor); I just know it was, as we say, a lot. There are two words I acquired via that book, which I may or may not actually verbalize, but they live loud and clear in my thoughts: one is "Loamy," the second is "The Greening."
Loamy is the earthy fragrance of the newly enriched soil in Spring, enjoyed like the aroma of a great coffee, as one digs into the earth. I feel and hear the word when I work outside. I am no great gardener, but I do love playing in the dirt -- I have a tendency to forget to wear work gloves, for to feel the cool earth between my fingers is still a pleasure.
The second word is "Greening," or more correctly said, "The Greening." Do you know what that is? The greening is that brief, magical transition among deciduous trees, going from a bare branched state to fully leafed. It is when the leaves have just broken their bud hulls, and with pale green, pointillistic dots of color, add an almost transparent wash of verdant color to the very air that surrounds the branches and forms the treeline. Never was this more evident to me than my third year as a college student, when I witnessed a greening in the rich, old woods of the Indiana University college campus in Bloomington, Ind.
If the weather times its effects correctly, the greening comes just prior to the pastel explosion that are the blossoming redbuds, dogwoods and magnolia trees. At the greening, one can look up and into the shadows of the empty trees and see, changing hour by hour, the first faint wash of green -- like a haze really -- fading in from nothing. If overcast or rainy, the green will glow against the dark, wet wood. If sunlight hits the area, a cloud of green will shine like an overlay of tulle on the arms of each tree. The greening is over as soon as the leaves are uncurled, for from that moment on, the foliage overtakes the visual scape and obscures the trees' structures, building dancing canopies that cast a summery shade over everything until the Fall once again does its magic and reveals the backdrop of the skies. You see, I love the Fall and view it as another form of a beginning. I love the transparency it imparts on the woods and hills where I live and I never grow tired of the monochrome of fields in winter. I believe the transparent green in that handful of hours when the infant leaves emerge holds for me the visual counterpart to the peace and openness of the Fall and Winter dormancy. My eyes rest on the color and enjoy it, yet can still reach beyond it, which somehow feels like a personal mantra, there for me to interpret if ever I so choose.
Did The Secret Garden render the obvious and turn me into a green thumb? No, though I dabble happily in the dirt, even if it now means little more than providing a snack for the deer that roam our neighborhood. It did, however, help grow my love of language, stories and writing and it taught me how to appreciate something very singular. As such, I share this with you in hopes you have an opportunity to look up and catch and witness a greening. With all the dark yuck there is in the world, and with technology facilitating a 24/7 diet of that yuck, let it serve as a vitamin for the eyes, the heart, the soul. Our planet, a sapphire and emerald jewel, perseveres despite Mankind's best -- and worst -- efforts.