I had thought about ice during the cold months too. How it is movement betrayed, water seized in the moment of falling.
Gretel Ehrlich’s essay “Spring”—published in 1986 in the now defunct literary quarterly, Antaeus—is one of those gloriously meandering pieces of writing. On a micro level, the prose is precise and detailed, a collage of descriptions of the author’s physical world, her landscape as she writes: snow, rocks, wind, water, sky, the animals that cross the topography. Fitting, of course, for an essay on a season. It’s a fine example of nature writing. At the same time, in a more general and overlapping way, there’s a deeply metaphysical line of questioning. The essayist is circling human nature, an emotional spring.
She threads the movement from early spring to mid-spring with science, especially with physics. Conversations she’s had with scientist friends. Geological observations. Early in the essay she describes spring as a restless time, and the essay reflects a psychological restlessness, a movement from one state (winter) to another (spring). But the state could also be illness to health, raw grief to healing, closed to open. When I’ve written it this way it sounds nearly new-agey, and it isn’t at all. It’s inquisitive, intelligent, scientific, emotional.
Ehrlich is also dealing with the landscape of my childhood—the American West with its unreal vistas and deep wilderness. A wilderness in which “wild” should be written in bold. I returned to the US a few years ago and drove in one day across the Sawtooth Mountains and the Cascade Mountains. I’d been living in Europe nearly eight years at this point and I’d forgotten the size of those spaces. The incredible breadth, the vastness of it. Ehrlich brought me right back into that and I experienced an aching nostalgia.
Space is an arena in which the rowdy particles that are the building blocks of life perform their antics. All spring, things fall: the general law of increasing disorder is on the take.
And there’s a surprise in her narrative. Where she begins and where she ends aren’t signaled in the usual ways (although the quote just above could be taken as such signaling), and thank goodness. This is what I mean by gloriously meandering. She takes us from one personal space to another that is quite different, and I could not have predicted that movement but when she finishes it is like that is the only way we could have gone. It’s delightful.