Title: Owed to Spring

Author: Lucinda Birch

In: Sport 11: Spring 1993

Publication details: Fergus Barrowman, November 1993, Wellington

Part of: Sport

Keywords: Prose Literature

Conditions of use



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Sport 11: Spring 1993

Lucinda Birch — Owed to Spring

page 79

Lucinda Birch

Owed to Spring

I am beginning to know the seasons and I am learning to like spring, despite its spendthrift ways and unrestrained green-ness. It is always windy. The incessant draught tears the soft unripe buds from plants and trees en masse to smash and shatter and shred and die. Hail storms pummel new flowers into slimy lumps of snotty yellow, late frosts freeze everything else into submission. This is an annual infanticide, so much for the perfection of nature.

There are children in the back garden. They think I can’t hear them. It is very overgrown there, and there is a big poroporo between them and me. The poroporo is one of the nightshade family, Solanum aviculare, and like many of its cousins it has poisonous parts. Potatoes are also a type of nightshade, Solanum tuberosum. Most people are unaware of the dangers of eating potatoes. The leaves of the poroporo are long black-green and dagger-like, its flowers single intense purple stars. The plant contains a steroidal alkaloid called solasodine, recently used in the production of steroidal drugs. Early Maori used the juices expressed from the leaves and young berries of the plant for treatment of The Itch, and also, I have heard, as a contraceptive. The children have found something in the creek, they don’t whisper any more, they laugh and scream. Now they have found me and they peer through the poroporo, giggling. Every so often one will look me straight in the eye, unflinching, stupidly, like an animal. They are soon bored with me and leave. Petals fly.

Today the sky is blue smeared with thin grey clouds. In spring the clouds here are just rainbows waiting for the light to turn on. I work in the orchard scything grass from around the trees. Occasionally I inadvertently make a cut in the bark of one of the trees, and straight away sap bubbles clear and glistening from the wound. But within an hour the scratch will be sealed with a dark bandage of aphids, their tiny bodies gorged and swollen. The plum trees blossom and buzz. They shiver with bees catching nectar to make honey for the hungry hive-animal. Honey is nectar mixed with bee-spit, vomit, and in the case of fir-tree honey, aphid faeces. Sometimes a bee will sting me, but then leave its entrails behind, attached to the sting embedded in my skin. Instant vengeance.

This excess of everything: petals, colours, leaves and winged insects, page 80 birds and noisy children; this is why sometimes I don’t like spring. It is hardly subtle. I go to the Tin Hut with some friends for a beer and to play pool. All the doors of the pub are open and the wind blasts in. Confused blowflies hover above the window-sills and shit-spotted light shades. Outside sparrows are carried flying sideways in the wind, and a sheep with its head caught between two wires of a fence dies on its feet, skin hung on sharp starving ribs while lambs dance in the clover around it obscenely growing. The wind blows in my face. Children yell.

They are back in the garden, trampling the arum lilies that line the stream with glossy leaves and white flowers loaded with a burning tongue- swelling toxicity. Why won’t the children go when I ask them to? Is there something wrong with them? Can’t they hear me? Spring is too cool. It is like being hit over the head with a bunch of wet daffodils. I long for the days of heat and burning; mid-summer when it is too stifling to play and even the birds are quiet. The children will spend all day at the pool and the river, and the garden will be tamed.

It rains and the stream floods, oozing out of its banks like a fat squashed brown eel. It seems that the dark clouds are corrupting and sending down snails with the rain to feed in their hundreds. Everything is gleaming wet, slithering and pulsating with new growth. It’s just too much. The cruel children find a bird’s nest and take it from the tree. I find it later, and two small featherless birds still alive, their blue-pink stubbly bodies heaving with each monumental breath. Poor little chickens, they have fallen from the sky onto their heads. I can hear laughter from the garden as I drown them in the kitchen sink. Sometime in the 1700s Dr S. Johnson formulated a theory about the winter habits of the common swallow. He believed that a number of them conglobated together by flying around and around and around, and once they had formed a tight ball would throw themselves into a river, where they would spend the season, hibernating on the riverbed. The common baby sparrow, however, can’t swim.

Sometimes I think I could kill the children. Or at least I could set traps for them, huge jaws of steel that clamp snap shut onto their legs. Actually, all I do is sneak out of the garden to where they have dumped their bicycles, handlebars askew and lunchboxes scattered. I steal their helmets, lurid pink and yellow and orange, and nail them securely to the outside of the greenhouse, in a line, like spring flowers.

I can tell the seasons, like most people, by the weather. It rains plums, now it is summer.