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April: new beginnings, refreshment for the soul

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain

Many a freshman lit student has struggled through T.S. Eliot's epic poem, The Waste Land, and lodged somewhere in memory the line about cruel April.

In England, where Eliot spent a lot of years and the joke is that “Summer comes for two weeks in July,” the vicissitudes of April weather can indeed seem cruel.

Ah, but in our part of the world, April is joy and wonder and delight as the earth begins reawakening in earnest. The crocuses, daffodils, hyacinths, flowering quinces, Japanese magnolias and weeds-in-tree-clothing Bradford pears have already strutted across nature's stage, brightly announcing in the drear and gloom of late winter that spring would be coming along, if we'd just bide our time.

Go out on an early April morning, following a shower in the night, when the air still has a bit of nip, and bright, golden sunlight bathes the flowering redbuds and dogwoods and the almost fluorescent green of the new leaves on the oaks, etching them crisply against the dome of dazzling robin's egg-blue sky — and there, all around, in marvelous abundance, is spring in its glory. You can feel in your soul the earth coming alive again.

The dratted dandelions already dot the lawn with brilliant yellow splotches, and tomorrow there will be even more. Today, though, who cares? If you've ever examined a dandelion flower closely, its petals are an absolute marvel of serrated symmetry. I have seen them, in the rarefied air and intense sunlight of the mountains, grow to immense size, with enormous blooms. If some botanist had laboriously bred such a plant and given it a fancy name, we would have ooohed and aahed and heaped him with all manner of honor (and paid a fancy price for its progeny) — but there are the dandelions, nature's gift to everyone, in lush profusion at every turn… and we hate them.

It's great fun, with two-year-olds, to find a dandelion gone to seed, its interwoven orb of seeds a design masterpiece, like some feathery geodesic dome (said to be the inspiration for architect Buckminster Fuller's noted domes), and to gently blow on the seeds and set them adrift on the air — knowing full well that every one of them will take root elsewhere in the lawn.

Some pluck new dandelion leaves and mix them into salads, and although I have eaten some offbeat plant life in my day (candied pansy blossoms, deep fried daylily buds, battered nasturtium blooms), I've never had the slightest urge to ingest dandelion leaves.

Everywhere now there is rebirth, new beginnings. Farmers and gardeners are tilling the soil and planting, making another start on crops to be harvested when spring's gleaming freshness will have turned to dust-caked drabness in the heat and horrid humidity of late summer.

Now, though, for an ever-so-short time, we have April again, to refresh our souls and remind us anew of the wonder and majesty of this world we are so fortunate to inhabit for a brief span.

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