One spring, years ago, I was listening to a radio re-broadcast of a Felder Rushing show on Mississippi Public Radio. He was talking about traveling in Nebraska that spring and that he found the landscape uninspiring. Being a native Nebraskan and a lover of the plains, I ripped off an email taking him to task for his swipe at my home state. He answered with an apology, said he was being too provincial and that he did enjoy the “wide open scenery.”
Even now after more than 60 years, I had told him, I remember walking barefoot on the wet sidewalks after a late spring rain, smelling the lilacs and the violets and looking forward to the peonies and bearded iris to come, hoping they would be at their peak on Memorial Day. It didn’t hurt to have just survived one of the long, cold, snowy winters that accented those subtle images, but, nonetheless, spring in the mid and upper plains has its special moments. Even on the barest of terrains such as the Sandhills in northern Nebraska, when spring comes, it comes with a glory of light, bright green on the rolling hills.
I spent my formative years in the Republican and Platte River valleys of Nebraska and also on the high plains of northwestern Kansas. Seeing the beauty of spring there is a lot like the character on the BritCom “Vicar of Dibley,” who has the trained farting duck: he holds the duck toward the village audience, saying, “Wait for it, wait for it.” And, when it comes, it is as great as was anticipated.
And fall – how can fall be so amazing where there are so few trees? It’s subtle, I’ll grant you, but it’s splendid with deep purple shadows and sunsets that are hard to absorb. What about the long mellow days of Indian Summer after that first frost? Wallow in it – the high winds and snow will soon blow out of the Northwest.
I will grant you that the most lush and spectacular springs are probably right here in South Mississippi, where one incredible year in my own yard I had blooming — all at one time — late camellias, azaleas, daffodils, bearded and Louisiana iris, hardy glads, flox, Siberian iris, dogwood, spirea and a few whose names elude me. True, it doesn’t usually play out that way, but that one year our world exploded with unforgettable color and beauty. Seeing huge fields of daffodils near Cambridge, England, after a dark, dark, and damp English winter comes close to equaling a Southern spring, but it’s just not the same. On the other hand, explosive periods of bloom seem so possible here when you can grow most anything by just laying it on the ground.
Whenever we take a road trip through the high plains and look at the ribbon of highway stretching endlessly ahead and steadily rising to the horizon, we remind ourselves that not everyone can see it, the subtle tones, the way there is more down than up in the terrain, the deep shadows against the glare. And the very best part – the sunset – is coming. Wait for it.