On our trip to Italy we took the train through Provence and spent a night in Nice, France. The countryside in this region is everything you would imagine at this time of year – endless fertile hills painted with Spring’s green growth.
Looking out the train window it resembles a neat patchwork quilt of color. Squares of symmetrically cultivated bright green meadows beginning to sprout up, checkered with rows of dusky violet lavender.
And acres and acres of bright yellow wildflowers that I’d never seen before. Up close the petals appear tiny, but from a distance the thick blanket unfolds seamlessly into wide yellow carpet. Reflecting the sun, their otherworldly dazzle steals the show from the rest of the landscape. What are they?
I did a little research and the flowers are called rapaseed, and belong to the mustard seed family. They are used mostly for cooking oil and biodiesel fuel. An ancient heirloom species giving way to modern use.
I think of Vincent Van Gogh who painted in this region, this exact French scene. He really nailed it. He caught the abstract sections of field – the textured wheat/sunflower/amber mix and clouds saturated with cerulean blue swirling above in the sky. And the wavy, undulating mounds of brown earth, so alive.
I think of how artists can see something completely everyday like this, but they really see it – the heightened distillation, the concentrated essence. Like they are inside of it.
And with Van Gogh, I always think of it as a particularly transient beauty. He typically grappled with ways to paint the explosion in his senses, before the scene or subject got away, bloomed out.
And from some place of genius he laid it down on canvas. The buttery sun inside of the flowers. The gritty germ of life exploding in a bean shoot. The disturbing, inky-crazy night sky.
Van Gogh invites us to his manic feast, to suck the sweetness from the mix in every way we can, with all our senses, throughout our bodies and deep into our soul. Sentient, immediate and fundamentally human – but temporary.
In his poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay”, Robert Frost describes it:
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay.
So, as the yellows flash by and the hours pass until we reach our hotel, the metronome of time is ticking in my ear. In three weeks my son will graduate from college, my sunny, blond baby boy who sat on my lap and had the most precocious sense of humor.
And now he is a tall, strong young man who will have a family of his own before long. And our time traveling abroad is flipping by like pages in a flip-book.
And it seems like right before my eyes, on this train bound to Nice, my own bright time in the sun is flashing by too. And too bad I’m not the artist or poet who can freeze the frames for all eternity.
But still, I am hoping that what’s next for me will be a mature yet vibrant thing – still vigorous, deep green and with a little juice still dripping. And that it will be woody and strong but still supple and worn smooth enough to bend gently with the breezes.
And I’d like to think that maybe my own final blaze of gold could go up with a massive whoosh of sky-high flame, like a midsummer bonfire of dried hay, popping and sparking like mad all the way up to the stars. And then what? Seeds pulled from the fluff of dried out husk and blown out across a dark hill?
Well — maybe that’ll be all right. I mean, after fifty-one years, and all of my witness to beginnings and endings, I should know it by now, right? That like all of these Springs, the precious people and beloved things I treasure and try to keep hold of – it’s all temporary. I mean I’m looking around and the natural world’s been pointing this out all afternoon.
But I can’t say I’m at peace with the idea. I sure want to keep going, keep running, keep laughing, keep hanging out with my family. I want to keep the party going. I’m just not ready to belly up quite yet. Really guys, I’m still sparking.
The days are getting longer, the sun is warmer, and we can stay up late (past 9:30pm.) And I am so looking forward to celebrating my son’s spectacular achievement in May.
And maybe, after the ceremony, when it’s starts to get dark, we can all pitch in and look for some wood for a fire. A huge, blazing, sparking, popping bonfire. And we might sit around it and tell stories about the little Lewis that we remember, and then ones about the Lewis he is becoming.
And to me, as his mother, they will all be one and the same. Because I’ve never been able to simply see the lightness of summer wheat and golden sun in his big-toothed smile without seeing the whole panorama from seed to fruit.
And I’ll think of these golden fields of France and how swiftly the season has gone, just too brilliant of a hue for Earth to hold.