“If I could make a day that I could give to you,
I’d make you a day just like today…”
Driving around north Mississippi as April began its segue towards May, there came to mind those lines from the long-ago John Denver song, “Sunshine on my shoulder.”
On every hand, sparkling clean after an early morning rain, Mother Nature was arrayed in her new finery.
The roadway was ablaze with drifts of crimson clover blooms, interspersed with doddering stalks of white Queen Anne’s Lace and clumps of delicate pink primroses and bright golden coreopsis. Fields shimmered with vast expanses of glossy yellow buttercuppy weeds (the name of which doesn’t now pop to mind). Waves of dark green wheat danced in the wind. As a backdrop to it all, an amazing palette of greens — oaks, maples, willows, elms, their new leaves in lighter hues, from the faintest pale to a bright chartreuse, contrasting with the dark green of junipers and pines. And overhead, a breathtaking blue sky with towering mountains of fluffy white cumulus clouds.
We’re blessed here in the Mid-South with a broad range of really splendid native trees — various oak species, from the evergreen live oaks to the magnificent white oaks; maples, though not the spectacular sugar maples of the northern and eastern climes, provide dense shade and color in the fall; dogwoods, spectacular in bloom and a beautiful small tree the year round; sycamores, absolutely gorgeous with their stark white bark; long-lived cypresses, the southern substitute for the giant western sequoias; buckeyes, their reddish-brown bloom spires brightening the forest understory; and the list goes on and on.
A tree seldom used in yards, but seen now and then in the countryside and said to have been a favorite of Thomas Jefferson, is the catalpa. A mature catalpa in bloom is stunning. One of the largest I ever saw was on the Ole Miss campus, a sight to behold when it was flowering! I wonder if it is still there?
There are also any number of less desirable trees and shrubs that thrive in our clime, some of which, alas, are just over my backyard fence and produce abundant seeds that drop or blow into my yard and germinate.
Among them a Chinese tallow tree, a huge privet shrub, both among the most invasive species in the lower South, and a huge Bradford pear, which drops scads of little pears that sprout all over creation, not to mention roots that run under the fence and send up shoots everywhere.
“Good fences make good neighbors,” the 17th century proverb Robert Frost incorporated into his famous poem, “Mending Wall,” means nothing to Mother Nature bent on perpetuation of species, and if I didn’t pull up all the seedlings or whack them down with the WeedEater, there would soon be an impenetrable jungle.
As if that weren’t challenge enough, last fall the two huge oak trees in my back yard produced the largest crop of acorns I think I have ever seen. It was a paradise for the neighborhood squirrels. But for weeks now I have been pulling up hundreds of tiny oak trees, their taproots already 6 to 12 inches deep in the ground. Heaven knows how many thousands of future board feet of oak timber I’ve destroyed — and every day more pop up.
Seeds from the maple tree, tiny “helicopters” that twirl to the ground, are produced in great abundance in the spring. Unlike acorns, which need to go through winter to start growing, maple seeds immediately begin germinating and thousands of tiny green maples clog the gutters, fill flower pots, poke up from crevices in the sidewalk — any place there is the tiniest bit of soil and moisture. So, I spend more time clearing them out and pulling them up.
But, such excesses of Mother Nature are easily overlooked in the splendor of an April day, when all the elements of earth and sky blend to a magical whole — the kind of day to file away in memory, to recall and savor in the stifling heat, humidity, and dust of summer that will ere long be with us.