By Barbara Tam
For many days this cold winter, we have been watching the world through windows. But mountains and wildness cannot be known by peering out through glass. Nature can be distantly observed, but it is best experienced. And as winter wanes and spring is now beginning its slow approach, the world outside is becoming alive and awake with interactions, with all number of relationships. This inherently cooperative world is one long continual participation by many and all the time. There is so much going on out there! Some we may see, though many others are hidden from us.
Springtime can seem to just happen one morning. I gingerly step outside with my usual cup of warmth to find I bear witness to the green. At last! It is as if I had forgotten all about this transition when the ground was white and the darkness so profound. Two young deer stand and watch me from the edge of the woods. The snow has retreated to the field edges and I can see mole mounds and traces of the mouse tunnels revealed now below the disappearing snow crust.
I notice the very fat buds appearing on the trees and walk towards them. The woods closest to the pasture are mostly oaks and maples, some beech, poplar, and hop-hornbeam sprinkled with evergreens. Further into the forest is a predominance of white and red pines, hemlocks, balsam, and fir. Natural systems are constantly in states of change. Just since coming to live and work on this land, we have been witness to many progressions, tendencies of growth in the margins, nodes of new relationships self-emerging. I rest for a moment on the bare rock spot above the garden and think about the snake dens that I know are beneath me. It’s warm on the rock this day, the apple trees waking up nearby. Giddy thoughts of tomatoes and radishes and those baby lettuces available soon in the Farm Store crowd my head.
Then I notice him: the resident groundhog has emerged from his winter under the deck and stares at me with a mix of curiosity and distain. He eyes the planting beds questioningly, as if to tell me that I am behind with his smorgasbord to come. A pair of Robins arrive onto the grass, a millipede marches along, I hear the drumming of a Pileated, and the air stirs with tiny fliers, and then I am struck by the intimacy in this moment. I realize that I am not just seeing a seasonal change, as expected and marked on the calendar, but I am wholly within it. This immediacy of experience of noticing and being noticed is, if only for a moment, a place of rare completeness. I am a part of it and it becomes a part of me.
Sometimes I think that place may be represented as a living map in the mind, a sort of ongoing remembrance over time. Yet, in winter, it is hard to imagine those lazy summer days. While on the Studio deck some warm evening, it is impossible to conjure a winter white-out. Today though, I will grab a garden rake, work with a renewed energy, and give that optimistic groundhog some improbable expectations.
Barbara Tam has taught visual arts to students from kindergarten through high school in both private and public schools for more than 35 years. She loves being with young artists dreaming big about their creative ideas and working to make those ideas real.
The natural world and its mysteries and intrigues is the focus of Barbara’s own explorative work, primarily in clay, paper, and fiber. She is the co-founder and board chair of Craigardan.