THE PASSAGE OF TIME
“Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been.” Mark Twain (1835-1910)
I just celebrated my fiftieth year on this planet yesterday, and to be honest, that half-century seemed to go by incredibly fast. Thirty of those seasons were spent gardening year-round and like anyone who works outdoors day after day, I have the crow’s feet to prove it. I wear them like a badge of honour, mostly because they probably got there from me squinting in the sunshine, admiring a frost-laden spiderweb or some other fleeting miracle that I wouldn’t have missed for the world.
We gardeners seem to have our own unique ways of marking the passage of time, with most of them intricately tied to the land that we love. Some look for that first ember of autumn colour, which will inevitably set our maples and Katsuras ablaze in vivid hues of orange and scarlet. Others await those promising signs of spring – be it a brave crocus or daffodil blooming over the melting snows, or the irrepressible forsythia which seems to flail its canary yellow arms in every direction, as if stretching out after a long winter’s nap. Many toil until the late summer harvest and when the bounty of the orchard or vegetable garden has been successfully picked and preserved, only then do they give their blessing for the season to come to an end.
For me, it is the return of the barn swallows in early May from their annual migration. For some reason it always seems to take me by surprise, this year end and beginning, and it rekindles memories of my estate gardener days when I first encountered them. The swallows would always engineer their gravity-defying nests under the eaves of the horse barn and when the next generation was old enough to flutter about, they would find their way to the old rake handles we had stored in the loft – where they would chatter the day away, fluffed and perched side by side. By midsummer they would be playing aerial chicken with the tractor I drove to mow the lawns and at dusk they would glide gracefully over the tall pasture grass, feeding on insects and readying themselves for the long flight ahead. Despite having to migrate thousands of miles just to set-up house – they cheerfully raised their families in plain view for all of us to enjoy – then they just leave. Their departure in late August always seems so abrupt, you just walk out one day and they’re gone. But perhaps that’s what makes me appreciate the short time I’ve spent with them all the more – because their coming and going much reminds me of the people that come and go in my own life. A reminder that I too will also encounter the day when I have to leave this planet I call home.