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Suddenly, a slow explosion of color

AFTER what seemed like five straight months of winter, the dead of night was cold and silent.

Spring had sprung, the Weather Channel assured us, but there was little sign of it.

And then it happened,.

Sunrise was hours away. The alarm clock had not gone off.

But for the first time this year, birdsong ended sleep. An early bird singing — a Carolina wren, one of the best singers there is.

The songbirds have started. The territorial stakeout has begun.

We are saved.  

Birds are more dependable than the Weather Channel. When they start singing, Spring is at last just around the corner.

Some years you get lucky, and the bird that stakes out the back yard and starts singing in the predawn hours is a finch — or better yet, that wren. Sweet songs, magical.

Some years it's a mockingbird, rattling off everything he knows, really showing off — the only sound in the surroundings.

Sometimes it's a cacophony of crows, letting the world know there's a hawk in the area.

Falling back asleep is out of the question. There's an emergency in the neighborhood.

And after the birds come the plants.

A shoot, a leaf, a bud.

This year they seemed paralyzed for a couple of weeks — still too cold to make a move.

And then one 70-degree day — boom — everything exploded.

Snowdrops, daffodils, crocuses. White, yellow, purple.

Then forsythia.  

Then the flowering quinces. Sometime it seems as if  women must have gone mad, decades ago, falling in love with a neighbor's flowering quince and planting one of their own. Today, whole neighborhoods can have a unifying characteristic.

Bradford pears, ornamental plums, redbud, weeping cherry. White, lavender, magenta,  pink.

It's like a slow explosion of color, not there one day, fully present the next.

It does something to the brain. When 6 or 7 million photosensitive cones in human eyes haven't seen much color for months and suddenly have to work overtime to see it all, it comes as kind of a psychic jolt as well.

It restores the soul.

Anyway, it does for me.

Growing up, I took all this for granted. This is just what happens. Happens every year. Ho hum.

I'm a little wiser now.

More than 20 years ago, my West Virginia self traveled through tens of miles of urban slum in the Philadelphia area.

Endless grimy rowhouses for many square miles.

Not a tree or a shrub or a patch of grass as far as the eye could see. Flat as a pancake, covered with broken concrete and worn brick structures.

Urbanites come to West Virginia and are shocked by the poverty they see. How, they will ask after going up some hollow, can people live like this?

I think if you took busloads of West Virginians past what I have seen in Philadelphia and Baltimore and Washington, D.C., their reaction would be much the same:

How can people live like this?

West Virginians are statistically poor — still stubbornly one of the poorest states in the nation.

But the poorest of the poor can step out of the humblest trailer on the most forgotten road and walk in beauty, first in spring, then in summer, then in fall.

It's a richer grade of poverty by far.

Maurice is editorial page

editor of the Daily Mail. She may be reached at 348-4802 or hanna@dailymail.com.


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