Mack Williams column: Song without words
Just a few prior-spring weeks ago, I went for a walk in the municipal park not far from my home. It was one of those days characterized by warmth at the sun’s zenith, balanced on both sides by waning or waxing chill.
This “walk in the park” was both a respite from indoor “cooped-up-ness” and the cry of: “Hey big man, let me hold a dollar” on city streets. The park’s ground is quite hilly, so if the panhandler chose it for his “occupation,” he would receive a free workout as well.
This walk, being not long after winter’s last precipitative “demonstration,” there were patches of snow remaining within the refuge of the shadows of the park’s great trees. When stepping into such shadows, I felt as responsive to the lack of light as the snow; but stepping out of them, I was as warm as sunshine again.
The shadows of taller clumps of remaining snow provided nestling shelter for their shorter, adjacent companions; but this “circling of the wagons” was doomed to spring’s eventual “massacre.”
As I descended one dipping-down park “valley,” the outside world disappeared altogether, except for the tops of three old textile mill smokestacks in the distance. For reasons of public sentimentality, these had been allowed to remain, despite their companion buildings having been reduced to piles of “brick gravel.”
The birds weren’t making much noise yet, so most of my walk was done in “sylvan” calm.
The exception to this was in the park’s playground section, where the sounds of a handful of happy children seemed just as natural as the few birdcalls I’d just heard.
Unfortunately, these sounds of “humansong” were accompanied by the loud shouts of adults to the effect of: “If you do that again, I’m going to smack your little -ss!” (Sadly, in some homes, this year-round sound seems as natural as birdsong in spring.)
The time had not yet arrived for the park’s “spring cleaning,” so detritus from the previous year was still present.
When I saw the hundreds of pine cones and sycamore balls, I thought to myself: “So many potential Christmas ornaments gone to waste!” remembering them sometimes being painted silver and gold at Granite Quarry School, to then be tied with string to a Christmas tree. (My late father-in-law, Hoyt Moore always called them “stickymore balls,” and they can be quite sharp.)
These sycamore “droppings,” in great clumps along my path, looked like sea urchins under the influence of some “evolutional” delusion which had led them to crawl up on land to “hope for the best” (but perhaps it’s not wise to be anthropomorphic about sea urchins).
I then noticed some small green twigs lying on the ground, as if a storm had stripped away some new spring growth; but closer look proved it to be a trick played by lichen, attaching itself as tightly to last year’s dead fallen twigs as wrapping paper would be fitted to a gift.
I was amazed to see the seeded “puffballs” of dandy-lions so early, almost thinking they might be analogous to previously hidden, over-wintered butterfly chrysalises. In a way, these early blooming “floral” mothers seemed to be doing as some of the more dedicated mothers of the animal kingdom, giving their young a head start in life over the young of others.
A lone bee was busy on a dandy-lion’s flower, his contribution being the earliest to this year’s “vintage” of honey.
Along another section of trail, individual blooms of phlox were beginning to “flock” together.
Next to one path, park trucks had gouged out deep mud tracks, now filled with the last seasonal melt-water. If sufficiently deep, and “watered” all through spring, these might become “frog hatcheries.” In such case, and on a wind-still day, any rippling water seen there would be articulated from below by the wiggling of tadpole tails.
The park’s little mini-creek, with spring’s new growth rising alongside, is actually the “pieced-together” product of a series of intermittently placed pipes transporting the park’s rainwater run-off. For a short distance, at least, this “mini” body of water experiences all that goes with being a nourishing stream before its “life’s blood” flows into the city sewer’s entrance at the park’s lowest level.
Upon leaving the park, I looked back at its welcoming signs of entrance, reading them again. I couldn’t help a comparison between Mendelssohn’s “Songs Without Words” and that seasonal welcoming “melody without lyric or musical note,” the performance of which I had just attended.