The Words of the Moffitt Family
Spring began March 20, 2010 at 1:32 PM Eastern Daylight. Science's pathetic explanation is that the Earth's axis tilts to where the sun is directly above the equator. As the axis keeps tilting, the sun will continue its northward march until June 21 when it will be directly overhead just a few miles north of Havana, where it will stop dead in its tracks, turn around and head south again.
Last December 21 with heroic effort, me and some friends stopped the sun's disappearance using time-honored methods. If we hadn't, permanent darkness would have destroyed crops and all life on earth. It's like this every year. We cut a deal with the universe and the sun starts to come back. Don't let anyone ever tell you animal sacrifices don't work.
On March 20, the daylight became long enough to equal the night. Coinciding with that was a string of days of perfect temperature and sunshine. It took a month for the piles of dirty snow to disappear. It will take longer for our blood to thin. A comforting sun hit our little patch of earth last week and it made us realize we hadn't been breathing for a while. We sighed and exhaled, climbed down off the ledge and into the light, the warmth and the grass. We almost took off our shoes.
Some say God is fully half masculine and fully half feminine, updating the deity from the bearded patriarch of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. This idea is supported by observing that God appears to have divided his/her nature, putting the masculine expression into some and the feminine into others. Boys and girls, boy animals, girl animals, boy plants, girl plants. It seems to have happened across the board, all the way down to protons and electrons (not exactly boys and girls, but you get the idea).
The result is that in order to see what God really looks like, and for things to resemble what God is like, looking at just a male or female alone won't do it. You have to put them back together in order to understand what God is like. I don't think I need to convince anyone that the most intense form of "together" for males and females, is mating. And everything from people to hamsters to magnetic north and south are trying to do that. Goldfish and katydids do it without drama. But people, omigod, fill the air with sweet and stupid love songs, with valentines and rhyming moon with June.
And it happens in the spring like no other time. You can pinpoint the start of the madness to the first warm, sunny days after the snow goes away. It's as though jumper cables had been attached to every living thing and someone cranks the juice up all the way. There is nothing subtle about it. The wrecked car parked on Lake Champlain falls through the ice and someone wins the betting pool for guessing the date and hour. And everybody gets a little crazy. The angel of responsibility sits on one shoulder and the angel of spring on the other, whispering twenty reasons to skip school or work. All of them good. Not just good. FABULOUS.
Life that we thought had been killed off by the months of freezing cold, was only hibernating, biding its time. Spring is its bacchanalia, a glorious Fat Tuesday for which there is no tomorrow, and in which nothing is held in reserve. Mother Nature is the extravagant life of the party. She is three sheets to the wind and will do anything and everything to ensure that the male and female of every hop-toad and slime creature find each other and share spit. Everything is over-the-top excessive. Where a few thousand minnows will do, nature needs millions just so their own parents can eat most of them. Some species of mayfly have an adult lifespan of only 30 minutes. A queen ant can live for 30 years. There don't seem to be any rules.
The rush is headlong and pre-wired, without conscious thought. As a young boy in Oklahoma, I saw a Hereford bull destroy a sturdy oak and wire fence, hitting it again and again with a half-ton of momentum, until he broke through, bleeding and grinning, to the heifers on the other side. It inspires and humbles a person to see that.
We know of our own blind passion for love and war. The history of nations is the story of young men rallying around slogans and charging up hills behind colored rags, into heavily-defended positions, for reasons ranging from the most foolish to the most noble.
However, it's the male praying mantis who wins the Charge of the Light Brigade Award for dedication. After a male mantis mounts the female to copulate, she turns around and severs his head with her reciprocating saw jaws. Now headless, he continues to mate for the next several hours, until he falls over or she eats the rest of him.
There are a couple of ways to look at this, aside from understanding that men don't require brains for sex. You can either choose to see it as a testimony to the cruelty of nature or you can see it as a supreme sacrifice for the future of the species. He mates her and then his body feeds and sustains her for the gestation and laying of hundreds of eggs. I choose to see it as sacred. If your lover can also be your protein source, that's a lot more efficient than the way some other species sort these things out.
So much of burgeoning springtime happens below our feet. The reason most of the planet is dirt instead of one big rock is because the bacteria, protozoa, and fishing worms have been burrowing through it and eating it, along with plant matter and egg shells from the compost heap. We call it "rotting," but fungi, amoebae, mites and arthropods call it "the good life."
A single spade of dirt from my little victory garden has some 200 species of insects and other life forms, most of them too small to see. Fungus spores, cicadas, several varieties of beetles, wasp larvae, caterpillars and others are there too, each hosting an impressive variety of parasitic insects, who in turn carry their own parasites.
There are two hundred million insects for every person on earth. Of beetles alone there are up to 8 million different species, with new ones being discovered all the time. One out of every four animals on earth is a beetle. And you thought there was only John, Paul, George and Ringo.
Ants are in the spade of dirt, spilling over the edges, each one trying to save suddenly exposed eggs. Amazon ants from Brazil, now found also in the American southwest, are one of a few species of "slave-raiding" ants who steal the pupae of other ants, raise them and put them to work raising the young. Amazon ants are incapable of caring for their brood because of their long piercing dagger-like jaws. Think about it. Would you want Edward Scissorhands changing your kid's diaper?
Ants of course are eaters. Last week the cafe car on Amtrack, fully stocked for the run from Richmond to Boston, ran out of sandwiches and sodas 150 miles later, just north of Washington. The server shrugged, "A hundred teenagers got on at Lynchburg." The Amazon ants could learn from them.
"April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land…" wrote T.S. Eliot. April rudely awakens a comfortably dormant land, and shoves it through messy changes. How affronted must a fetus feel to find its dark and warm, watery womb suddenly drained and the walls squeezing in. In birth there is vicious pushing, a flood of light, a rush of cold air and such noises and smells. The newborn is accosted by giants, backslapping one another and handing out cigars. Only a day before everything was so beautifully tranquil and undisturbed. So yes, April is cruel, and its motto is "Get a life!"
Sometime, while watching dragonflies mate, or two garden slugs entwined, suspended from a branch by a string of slime. Or watching sparrows mate for the third time in one season. Or while contemplating the touch of your one true love, take time to ponder why the magnetism between male and female was created, and made to be so intense. And further, why it is that only this bonding, and nothing else, creates new life from one end of time to the other. Why is the creation divided into male and female just so they can rush back together into pairs that resemble, in the physical world, what God looks like when sitting around the house alone?
To me the answer is obvious. I can think of no other reason except that God wants to be involved. The ultimate parent wants to love and be loved. God wants to be smack in the middle of all that we create, especially when we create new life. If we are bug-eyed and joyfully unhinged when spring fever hits, we are created in the image of God. We don't have to ask who wrote the book of love. We know exactly who put the bomp in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp and the ram in the rama lama ding dong, that made your baby fall in love with you.