Today, bright with a diffused light that at least seems like sun, has the feel of an unwritten letter. The feeling of disclosure, an obscure urge to share, also mingled with a sense of obligation, something that should be done. And most likely will remain undone.
There is a type of freshwater algae found in the varying environments of rockpools, part of a family referred to as ‘snow algae’ that is happiest in colder temperatures. When it gets below freezing, the available water crystalises; in response, the small sphere of algae goes into hibernation, growing a hardened cyst. The cyst is made of carotene, with an orange tint, and at times when the snow is thin or melting it stains an area with bright patches of alarming colour. One strain of the algae, found on a polar island, was sent into space, perched for over a year and a half out on a limb of the international space station, open to the vacuum, rained with cosmic radiation, unmediated sunlight and the deeper colds of darkness. It remained unperturbed, asleep. Brought back down to the planet, all that time later, it was given a few scant drops of water, and revived. It is the first plant known to survive exposure to space.
The words used in reports to describe the spheres of algae in space: dormant; desiccated. Not: resilient; lonely; brave.
I find myself writing this text at a point when cases of coronavirus are, once again, on the rise. A familiar enough feeling from the past few years, of wondering what might be coming next, if those you care about are safe, if they even know they are safe. In previous waves, there were restrictions, isolations, requirements. Now, though, it is spring. Open to the elements, thawing slowly.
I find myself doing web searches for how plants know that it is spring. The rise in temperature and decrease in moisture that comes with longer days apparently trigger certain proteins that tell the plant to bud, to spread, to look towards the light. Then there are the words: available nourishment. Which seems a bit of an unknown quantity. There must also be a shift in the minerals and nutrients that become available, which depends in turn on the plants’ endless underground relationships – microbes, fungi, ferrying bits of molecular rock in exchange for sugars sucked from the sun. These are unseen entities that are still being noticed, still being figured by humans how they actually work, how they arrive at some sense of symbiosis. Basically, we don’t fully know the confluence of events that elicit this annual parade.
I mention this to a biologist friend. You’re missing the point, they say. The wilting and fallen leaf, the dropped seed, the visible flowering – they are all equally a renewal.
In previous months, bound to certain realms, other ways for humans to gather and share were sought. Or, rather, ways that were already there were paid more attention to. Posting reading lists; going for virtual drinks or discos; listening more to the comings and goings of birds; watching recorded films or concerts at the same time as someone somewhere else; planting more things in pots and gardens. One such attempt elicited this text, as a set of monthly online meetings, held by a dozen people over a year. What was actually said in those meetings isn’t entirely irrelevant, but also isn’t in a position to be shared. Words that were said about these gatherings: warm bath; beautiful; retouch; refix; hard to put into words.
An advertising sign by the roadside has broken mid-rotation between posters: The Sweet Chili One sandwich wrap bursts up one side of the image, while beneath is the slogan for another, unknown product: My gut loves it. The next advertising poster further along the road is touting some other unknown product, and simply reads: Happy Guts, Happy Butts.
There used to be a rumour of a secret chord. That in every single Ramones song they made a point of including this mystery chord, a signature of sorts. I listened out for it, though all I heard were the same four to six chords, familiar transitions and progressions repeated over and over. I began to suspect that it was there, but just the difference was it was unhearable – that it was an extra, unheard note, a sympathetic resonance pocketed somewhere in the noise.
Which is to say, the gradient between presence and absence, feeling ok or not, between dormant and alive, is miniscule. Things are just the same as they were before, but then it just clicks slight askance and it’s the same, just slightly more harmonious, more luminous.
A butchers on the corner has a walk-in storage fridge whose wide, white door slides open out on to a side road. Most mornings, several pallets of boxes filled with whole chickens sit on the pavement, waiting to be loaded into the fridge.
They aren’t, obviously, whole chickens, as they are missing their heads, feet, feathers. But this is the word still used: whole.
This morning, as several people handed boxes into the open fridge, a sentence has been written overnight, blazoned across the fridge door in loose pencilled letters: One day you will miss me. As I pass by, I wonder if it’s the work of a longing teenager, penning a wall, any wall, with their errant thoughts; or if it is intended for the inhabitants of the fridge. To speak for them, or at least acknowledge their beakless ascent.
The difference between this spring and last spring is a kind of acknowledgement. Last spring brought with it various forms of mutual support, shared means of coping. An awareness that we could do better. This spring, we are meant to act as if life is back to what it used to be, and most of these supports have been cast aside or discontinued. Part of me wonders what was learned, if we even heeded the kinds of attention that was asked, what senses of them might remain. Part of me wonders where the quiet rockpools are, that after several seasons might still hold some hidden form of resilient, shared life. Where the hardened seeds are, that after a necessary time of drought and cold might be readying to break open to the world. From the unseen silence of these chapters is contained the potential for the chapter after that, and after that, and so on, for the unwritten renewals yet to come.