The grass in Birdland had not been mowed, and Michael and I were walking around with our coffee. Most mornings find me with my husband, taking a turn in the yard to see what is blooming, what needs to be weeded or fixed.
We hadn't fired up the lawn tractor yet, mostly because switching from the winter's snowplow attachment to the mower blades was the kind of chore you want to postpone as long as possible.
From the spinney where we were checking the woodland flowers and pine seedlings we transplanted last week, we stepped over to the old apple trees to lament their dying. The little Jonathan still bravely blooms, and a snow of pink petals lay in the grass.
The old Roma tree our children used to climb is half gone, great limbs dead to the top, but suckers still spouting leaves.
Michael stepped forward to touch one dry limb, saying something remorseful about pruning and — BOING!%#! His foot brushed something, and a tawny pear shape the size of his fist vibrated in the tallish grass, catching my eye.
It was a morel, the first I'd ever found in the yard. I squeaked, which I don't do often, but I did then, and my eyes scurried around and pop! Pop! Pop! Everywhere I looked was another. I picked three salad bowls full, running back to the house with each load, where Michael was now cleaning them and heating up the skillet.
We stood in the kitchen and ate a plate each of morels sautéed with butter garlic, onion, chives and the new thyme I bought at the Allerton plant sale the Sunday before. Dead trees and unmown grass bring morels!
Standing in the kitchen with the taste of woodlands in my mouth, I pondered Cate's question. My childhood friend, Cate O'Hara, asked me when she was visiting whether my children feel optimistic about the future.
We both realized that we didn't know how our children would answer the question, so we talked about our own points of view.
On the one hand, we need only listen to the news of radical climate disasters and species extinction to feel helpless. Couple this helplessness with the corporate and political power structures that make change so difficult, and I come up with a desperate bleakness. But standing in my kitchen eating hot morels gives me a spark of hope in the despair. When left alone, nature works in ways that we can only guess at.
When friends stay with us at Birdland, I ask them to sign the guestbook. Here is part of what Cate wrote: "For the sake of our children, let's decide to be optimistic about the future. Let's try to do our little efforts to tread lightly on the Earth. Let's applaud the idealism of kids who have grand schemes to save the world. Even as we know that nature will not be the same for them even as it was not the same for us as it was for our parents and theirs. A scientist I knew said that nature will survive — we may not, however. Is that optimism or pessimism? I'm not sure. I'm going to believe that it matters to write poems and stories, that it matters to create community, to keep old friendships alive, to look with compassion on those we don't agree with."
And now, standing in my kitchen, I think the greatest hope is to leave nature alone for the most part. Leave the apple trees to die a natural death and from their passing will sprout mushrooms, in secret communion with the roots, which nurture a whole colony. I think of my quarter acre corner meadow, which I rescued just three years ago from the corn and bean rotation of our family's commodities farm.
Oh, I don't leave it quite alone. I cut out the maple seedlings to give the prairie plants sun to grow. I groom my winding pathway through the meadow, planting perennials shared from friends. I toss seeds from the path into the wild parts, but beyond that, I do leave it alone.
Now, what used to be monoculture is a thriving community of prairie plants and birds and insects and, yes, weeds. I agree with Cate. We must choose optimism, because pessimism seems to me to be saying, "Oh well, if the world is ending anyway, I can do whatever I want."
But our optimism has to be vigorous. We must seek out ways to support nature and community and art. I can't just stand in my kitchen munching on morels. I need to engage in communities that promote peace. What ways have you found to engage?
Occupy beauty; promote peace; blessed be.
Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is interested in all the cycles of the seasons. You can follow Birdland on Instagram (@BirdlandLetters) and Twitter (@BirdlandLetters). Mary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via snail mail care of this newspaper.