|Crocus chrysantha 'Cream Beauty'|
Friends of mine who are woodworkers get a little tender about joinery—tender as in touchy, but also softhearted. They will stew and fret (and quite possibly even curse) over a mortise and tenon that doesn't nest together just right. If you don't notice their rabbets and dadoes they will be wounded to the core. And their rough, scarred hands will touch a well-made dovetail as if it were a newborn baby. End joints are well enough in their way, but to someone who loves wood for its own sake, they are poor substitutes for craftsmanship. They lack the strength and grace of interlocking connections.
It's funny that we use the word dovetail for both joinery and transitions. In joinery a dovetail brings two pieces of wood together firmly and permanently. Separate things become one unit. But a dovetail can also be fluid and ephemeral, the clean segue from one set of sounds or ideas or ways of doing things to the new ones that replace them.
When I worked in radio many years ago I loved the quest for the perfect segue, the transition that would make the pairing of two songs seem almost inevitable. Words didn't do it. The ideas they represent are too abstract to make strong links in a sonic art. The bridge needs to be musical: a shared timbre, a melodic riff, a rhythmic impulse that resonates between the old song and the new. Important as it is, the segue only lasts for a few seconds before disappearing into the flow of the music, speeding on its way through time.
I've been thinking about dovetails and transitions lately. I finished cleaning out the central bed, paring back the blue grama grass just as the crocuses came into their own.
Last year I wondered whether flowers that bloom halfway between the solstice and the equinox are really spring flowers or winter ones—whether they're signs of change on the horizon or just lovers of the cold, plain and simple. This year I'm seeing the crocuses more as the transition between winter and spring, a bridge that spans them both. Their timbre resonates with the straws and browns of last year's grasses and leaves, as well as with the warmth of a strengthening sun. They are as china-thin as a brittle winter wind or a delicate dawn sky in spring. Clean and spare, they fill the bare, spare places in the garden after the cutting back; clean and spare, they radiate freshness like the clean, fresh growth coming in. Winter fades out; spring fades in, with the crocuses making a graceful dovetail between them.
I also find myself thinking about joinery, though, and the way things become inextricably bound together. The sandhill cranes that winter along the Rio Grande are migrating, you see. They arrive in October, their calls echoing against the garden walls, when the fall-blooming crocuses open. When the spring crocuses bloom in February I know I will again hear a throaty purr above the garden and look up to see families and clans and nations of silvery, long-winged birds circling, wheeling, riding the thermals higher and higher, until with one mind they turn irrevocably to the north. And then they're gone. I miss them when they go. So when the crocuses open, I feel a small pang of sorrow on the cranes' behalf, because crocuses and cranes—they just go together.
You'd think the link between them would be one of simple association—simultaneous impressions butting up against each other like an end joint, not something to get all tender about. To my mind, though, the connection is stronger than that, more graceful, more finely crafted. Those migrating birds and rooted bulbs share features that interlock them together, no matter how intangibly: the way wings and petals both catch fire in the sun, turning translucent, iridescent; the way they cup themselves around the air. The way their fragility is deceptive: despite delicate bones and wings like china-thin petals the cranes will journey thousands of miles in the shadow of winter; the crocuses can endure biting winds and snow and still bloom at the next touch of sun. They are not like the tulips, holding out for a little more warmth, or the hummingbirds, waiting for nectar to flow. They respond to the changing season, the quickened pulse of the earth, the intensifying, vibrant message of the sun, with urgency—immediacy. For them the time to move is now. And the time is brief. We will enjoy them for just a few short days before they're gone.
Before they disappear into the flow of a new season, speeding on its way through time.