A spring sunset in Sewanee. Photo courtesy of Vanessa Moss.
By Vanessa Moss
One month into quarantine, a senior and Sewanee local reflects on what was supposed to be her last season on the mountain.
I’ve neglected the spring.
When we’d left Sewanee in March for break, everything was grey, only the season’s early risers were beginning to form buds and the beloved daffodils were our harbingers of the coming sun.
When I returned to Sewanee, yet all the love was gone, I promised myself I’d make this spring different: commit every phase of its rise to memory, become a scribe for the beauty of growth that my peers were missing.
Now the end of April is a blink away, and I find myself surprised by the green powder that has spread itself over the mountaintop. I’m disappointed–No spring is ever closely watched enough. It unfolds in a sweep that lulls and blinds.
The daffodils burst their shining heads, enduring staccatos of frosts amidst thaw. The daffodils fade, the tulip steps in. The oyster mushrooms yield to the coveted morels, then the morels are gone, too. The cleavers and chickweed are young and supple, then they flower and bitterness stems. The fiddleheads are ripe enough to remind you to pick them, then their furls open wide within a week; when you march back, basket in hand, you walk away empty. I caught the bluebells just as they were going, now they’re gone. I’ve eyed the trilliums, and the periwinkle, and the dandelion. And I’ve written for none of them.
My first trip down the mountain after returning from break, the trees’ leaves had only nudged above the Highland Rim. I silently seethed as I drove today, seeing green crowns sitting on the mountain’s head. How’d I miss the march of leaves? Have I been asleep all this time? When will I wake up?
I first noticed spring when I was nine years old. Riding to and from school each day, I’d watch the trees blow past as I rested my temple against the shuttering metal frame of the school bus. It must’ve been a hard winter. Heartbreak, illness, and poverty haunted our house. While my brother heard voices and mom ‘rested,’ I watched the trees blow past. When I saw the first tantalizing leaves, they were the size of mouse ears, waving with the sweetness of a newborn’s palm. I found what I’d been needing. Spring.
Every day I craved for spring to come: not the sad, still-grey nascency of late winter, I wanted full leaves and my smoky mountain home to be rich in green and gold with polden. I remember being angry. It was taking too long. I needed it now.
Then one day I looked up again through the finger-smudged window, and it was there. It had sprung ahead of me. I had fallen behind, squatting and staring and fixating on the same blue-grey shield of winter bark that kept me cold and barred from joy.
From then on, I’ve watched the seasons. And from then on, I’ve been frustrated by their subtlety. Now as I look out from Point Disappointment, only three splotches of forest floor remain. Gaps have filled in, mice ears have grown into mice, into rats, into rabbits. Some trees hold density and shadow, others still powdery and pale, barely translucent.
The dogwoods are blooming in full, white and pink. They remind me that I should be celebrating. I should be reveling in the climactic ease and joyousness that comes after four years at Sewanee. Instead I feel behind the world: as it springs forward, I’m still hidden behind that grey shield of winter, clinging to a time when spring was still coming, life was still full of hope, when nothing yet had been lost. Not friends, or opportunities, or the ending I’d so long been waiting for.
So I watch the trees blow by, and the dogwoods open. And I sit, and crave some change I do not understand, some season that does not exist, some closure that will never come. And if it does, I resent its gentleness. Because it will unfurl as smoothly and insidiously as the spring.