Written by Michele Roldán-Shaw
Photography by Margaret Palmer
Of all seasons, spring might be the easiest to ode. Who doesn't love the redemption of another round? Fiddlehead ferns are unfurling, and the Lowcountry is covered in bloom: electric-fuchsia azaleas, pear and plum blossoms, pristine white drifts of the dogwoods, preposterous tulip trees, little trumpet honeysuckles, and clusters of wisteria so fat they're like lilac-colored grapes. All this contrasts well with the new chartreuse of water oak leaves. And trailing over everything, even way high in the treetops, Carolina jessamine dashes the world with yellow.
A tantalizing fragrance is caught on the wind—some variety of jasmine—and it hits you with a surge of spring fever, almost too sweet to bear. (Where is that special someone right now?) Or perhaps in the calmness of a more settled age, the fragrance arouses only a flood of memories, equally delicious. Animals have an agenda—the cardinals catcalling from rooftops, the frogs seeking mates in the swamp, the lizard- bachelors flashing their ridiculous pouches—and we know what they know: that spring is a season of love.
It's also a season of pollen. A million-and-one pine trees, each bristling with dozens of cones containing a bazillion spores each, are exalting the season with their powdered solar dust. A friend of mine put it best when she said, "Man, it's like someone done clapped a million chalkboard erasers out here!" Forgive me if you're an allergy sufferer, but I must say I love the pollen: the way it dulls colors, softens edges and adds a grainy texture to things. It gilds the tops of cars as they go speeding by in the sun. It's said that in the Sahara a fine red dust contaminates everything, even getting inside waterproof Swiss diving watches. In such a life you can't take anything too seriously, but only remember that you too are part of the earth—ashes to ashes, dust to dust, pollen to pollen. I am a person who leaves the window open all the time, day and night, all seasons of the year. And for these few weeks when pine pollen comes in to coat everything, I feel like I live in the Outback, or some shanty on a wild Central American beach—I relish the gritty, unattached life of the bush.
Spring brings winds that blow the pollen around, and the falling oak leaves, and then people with leafblowers come and blow them in the opposite direction, giving you a headache in the process. But this is compensated for by the birds, who are at their most vociferous. New migratory songbirds enrich the chorus, and if you're like me you can't necessarily identify them by name, but certain ones just sound like spring. Then there are the whip-or-wills, whose crepuscular calls let you know the season has arrived. (Actually I guess it's the chuck-wills-widow, but who says that? Whip-or-will sounds so much better.) What makes their cry so thrilling? Sometimes it's heard at midnight, echoing from secret nests in the pines; an answer comes from a distance, and you lie wide awake in the pleasant agony of restlessness.
The first days of spring are so intoxicating, with warm sunshine and soft seductive breezes, that you forget everything you're supposed to be doing and rush out to have a good time. Why not? We're assuming you got some work done over the winter. Then a rainy day comes to help you sleep it off, and what could be more perfect? Yesterday I watched the first good afternoon thundershower of the season as it rolled in from the north. Lightning flashed pink and purple, sometimes with thick white bolts, and way off in the distance an egret was a pinhole in a big black cloud. I guess it knew what it was doing, flying before the storm. Then thunder cracked and ripped in surroundsound and I had to abandon my lawn chair in the yard, where I was scanning the heavens for portents, and go inside to enjoy the good life. When spring comes do you ever feel like the problems you had during winter were all just in your head?
Goodness abounds these days, especially at the farmer's market: new potatoes, spring onions, English peas, thin sweet carrots, the last of the winter greens and the first of the summer produce. Topping the list are strawberries, bright red and tasting of warmth; I have been known to survive for days together on strawberries and cream. Soon softshell crabs will be coming in (giant deep-fried spider sandwich anyone?) giving rise to whole events in their honor. Yes, this is the best time for revelry in the streets: art walks and marsh tacky races and beer tastings and fairs, and above all the Bluffton Village Festival, better known as Mayfest. How many times have I come home sunburnt but happy, cash jammed down in the pockets of my cutoffs, after a grueling day of hawking paintings at Mayfest? I used to say that everyone in Bluffton had a Mayfest pipe dream—some ingenious idea no one had ever thought of before, that they could make for cheap and sell all day long—but in the end the safest bet is always beer.
Beer! While it never goes out of season, warm weather makes it taste best. Anything enjoyed, consumed or partaken of outside is what's called for right now— doesn't matter what it is. A tea party, a garden party, an out-of-control party; golf, soccer or cornhole; boating, reading, sleeping, sketching, praying, exercising, talking on the phone—go outside and do it now! Enjoy it while the breeze still blows the gnats away, and the fire ants have yet to declare full-scale war! Take advantage of these days, because God knows they're not eternal any more than you are.
Soon it will be summer and blistering hot, but why worry about that now? Today it's spring and it's perfect.