Spring in 2021 and 2022 brought hard and brutal frosts in late March. Overnight temperatures dropped near single digits and the mercury didn’t rise above freezing for consecutive days. These arctic blasts were unusually late, and all the magnolia trees had already gone to bud when they hit. The tender petals of their satin blossoms were scorched brown in the cold and most buds dropped to the ground by early April, having never opened. I hardly remember a year when we had no magnolia blooms, and I am sure beyond doubt that I have never lived through two sequential springs without the prettiest of all flowering trees on display.
The stark and unexpected loss of the annual joy of magnolia blossoms was particularly difficult in these last two years considering the political and societal climates at the time. The feelings of helplessness and impotency related to national and global events were exacerbated by the pain of a comparatively lesser but no less personal tragedy unfolding domestically in the natural world. It felt like loss upon loss.
But another March has nearly completed her course, and Spring is yet again moving in the air above and in the earth below, penetrating plant and animal alike with its spirit of divine discontent and longing (to borrow from Grahame). The magnolias are again ripe with buds, and the forecast bodes well for blossoms before Palm Sunday. Despite the keen sense of that which we have certainly and irreparably lost these last two springs, I find my heart swollen with the joys and expectations of the season, as always. I eagerly await the unfolding of the vintage of New Jersey spring that I have known and loved my forty years. Even so, come fair season.
What feels significant about the magnolia buds this year is that they bear no scars. They are perfectly new—fresh and newborn—naïve, even. They are forming and foliating under the watchful eye of their Creator with nary a remembrance of things past. They are not anxious about things to come. They bear not a hint, not even a faint scent or a trace of “the new normal” or any other such maxims of bleak resignation and dystopian despair. The buds on the trees this spring are small triumphs unawares.
There are still desperately broken people walking alone in parks wearing cloth masks in March 2023. Millions of children bear indelible marks of neglect and abuse at the hands of their appointed public servants and elected representatives. The chaos and carnage of one too many Progressive Springs is inescapable and seemingly irreversible. Few expect a return to the norms of polite society, and to expect any expression of regret or repentance from an espoused Leftist seems akin to holding out hope for the blind to see.
And yet the magnolias are in bud. Now, in March of 2023, in the wake of a lifetime’s worth of ‘unprecedented circumstances’ and a series of years ‘like no other,’ the trees are getting ready to bloom. They are in bud, and they will likely blossom. They will glorify God and enjoy Him with as many days as they have breath. But they are not in bud because we have reunited or reconciled–certainly not because we have ‘returned to normal,’ so called. The magnolias are in bud and they will subsequently bloom as a testament that all rivers run to the sea, but the sea is not full. To the place where the rivers flow, there they will flow again.
Though vine nor fig tree neither
their wonted fruit shall bear,
though all the fields should wither,
nor flocks nor herds be there,
yet God, the same abideth,
His praise shall tune my voice,
for while in Him confiding
I cannot but rejoice.
March 28, 2023