Spring is struggling to find her place here in Wisconsin; as the beauty of once-clean snow banks yields to mounds of trash accumulated over the winter months – soon to be followed, we trust, by tulip blooms and robin hatchlings – we pause for another guest post from Donn Ring. I think I was caught as much by the juxtaposition of a search for lost socks in the dryer (is there a more typical image of our modern human dilemma) while such beauty sits waiting right outside the window. Enjoy!
A week ago, as Lynn was hanging out bedding on the clothes line, she was suddenly taken by the backlit splendor of our old flowering quince bush. She came rushing in and said, “Taco (one of a hundred pet names she has for me), you’ve got to get this picture!” Now this seems to happen every year. I have dozens of pictures of this old bush. It is the first to bloom in our yard each Spring with that wildly passionate blush of pink/red penetrating the gray of Winter’s grip
In the bleak mid-winterFrosty wind made moan,Earth stood hard as iron,Water like a stone;…Christinia Georgina Rossetti — written 1872
Our quince announces revolutionary change is coming, a softening. Spring life is thrusting through Winter’s dormancy. However, this Winter has been anything but bleak. It has been the warmest Winter on record. Our January average temperature was almost the same as Tampa Bay Florida which was in a cooling trend; yet from the attic window by this computer niche, on a clear day I can see the Coastal Range of British Columbia. And this incredible warming played havoc with the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games. This year our old quince began budding pink for the BCS college championship football game shortly after New Years Day. But this was not Alabama vs. Texas at the Pasadena Rose Bowl. This was Port Townsend 1350 miles (2173 km) north.
This quince (Chaenomeles speciosa) is a native of China and Korea. When I bought our little cottage in June of 1975 (6 months before I met Lynn) I had no idea what this untamed bramble was. The cottage backyard was over-run by unkempt tangles of invasive Himalayan blackberries and English ivy. I pulled and dug and swore (with ethical appropriateness) and hacked and burned until I claimed dominion over half my yard. I figured I could pull this other unsightly tangle out next year. It was not in bloom at the time.
I think this is psychologically symptomatic of growing up on Long Island New York in a neighborhood not far from Garden City. G.C. was on the upscale side of the Long Island Railroad tracks where commuting executives with too much money could produce anal landscapes without flaws around their domains that would do Kyoto or a mini-Fontainebleau proud. I’m certainly not anti-formalism. My own neighborhood south of Jericho Turnpike had it’s own formalism. It was Archie Bunker Italian where it seemed most of the men must have labored in concrete and paint. Neat and hard. But, I thought, when I buy my first house I am going to establish my visual upward mobility by creating my own Garden City Estate. (Little did I know how prolonged exposure to West Coast social and spiritual anarchy and experimentation would disassemble my East Coast propriety.)
But then in February 1976 I was treated to a random floral display that knocked my socks off. How could I pull this up? And the blooms, like the Energizer bunny went on and on and on into May. So, except for a few snips of dead branches here and there, Lynn and I have let it ramble — now 30′ (9.14 m) east and west and 16′ (4.9 m) up and down. It’s a glorious mess.
The funny thing is, this glorious mess is best viewed from the back door of our utility room. That’s the place from which I took the above photo.
yours truly, using my spelunking headlamp, trying to find lost socks in the dryer in the utility room >>>> )
Now the utility room is not a place where you desire to contemplate aesthetic transcendence or meditate on the teleological argument for the existence of the divine. It was patched on to our old cottage sometime between the wars when a sewer became accessible and ringer-washers began to become obsolete — you know the ringers that your mom told you to stay way from because you could get your little hand caught and it would pull you in and crush your whole arm and the fire department would have to come and whack it off — a warning with the emotional intensity of having a Red Ryder BB Gun that would certainly blind all the neighborhood kids.
In one cramped corner, the room has catch-all shelves for extra pots and dishes and clothes-pins and work shoes; a couple of cupboards for duct-tape, glues, furniture polish, dye, rags, and jars of miscellaneous nails, screws, bolts, washers, thumbtacks and rubber bands. Below the set-tub is an assortment of non-phosphate, bio-friendly soaps and cleaners, a jug of white vinegar, and spare sponges. Thirty two years ago we salvaged a washer and dryer that a family had jettisoned and have kept it limping on — though we rarely use the dryer, rather, opting for an outdoor clothesline. And that’s the only other good place to view the quince spread — at the clothesline.
Thus, throughout the Spring we are pleasantly agitated by the unromantic juxtaposition of utility survival chores and exquisite delicacy and beauty.
Now you’ll never get a brochure from us advertising a “Ring Retreat” where you can experience epiphanic enlightenment while sitting on the jostling spin cycle of our old unbalanced washer. (But, come to think of it….this…yes, this could be a new spiritual fad. I’ve seen things almost as crazy to connect the emotional vacuum of Moderns to the illusion of Something More.) We are not going to create a divorced shrine or designated viewing spot with entrance fee for our colorful tangle. And we’re not going to don exotic vestments and lead you in genuflections and prostrations. Generally in this place of work-encounter we are wearing torn sweats, an old sweater and black rubber boots. We like the fact that this splash of vibrant color intimately occupies the horizon of the place where we do the dirty work of daily survival. It kisses us with delight. We give it place. We are open to each other in non-demanding presence.
There could be a bigger issue here, perhaps foundational, maybe metaphorically transforming. But we leave it up to you to extrapolate — or not. It could be a Zen problem, a human question, an existential possibility, an opening to new dimensions, a move to embrace a sacred beauty during the unholy task of getting on. Or is it all holy?