Not so long ago my brother commented from Michigan the wonder of technology we have seen in our lives, of our ability to take photographs, see the result and transmit them almost instantaneously.
We grew up in a world of black — or gray — and white, of snapshots that were taken sparingly, the film sent to the mainland for processing and returned in little bound booklets. “Inside” pictures were a luxury we had not at all, and color only on rare occasion.
A few years ago I wrote about the fire that consumed the once-grand Searles Mansion, and was asked, on line, about photos of the event. I was reminded cameras always loaded with expensive film were more an extravagance than an expectation. I did some quick “research” and found that the Instamatic camera had been introduced only a month earlier and was not in wide-spread use. And back then, people were more likely to grab a shovel than a camera when heading to a fire.
Now, I pick up the device I have had but a shade over two years, put off by the sheer expense of more than the simplest of phones, and look at photos of this week last March and the one previous.
There was snow on the ground both years.
A year ago my north lot was being returned to the north pasture of my earliest memories. Then the cows left, ours and then those of two generations of neighbors, and the swath cut for hay narrowed as the need decreased. It was a wonderful space visually, that remaining middle area catching afternoon sun, shining green or gold depending upon the season, a delight for the dog, but increasingly interlaced with those thin but sturdy vines of ground briars, waiting to catch a human foot.
A year ago this day was stormy, the seas high, the boat probably not running. It left a smooth blanket of white beyond the newly installed gate, a smooth cover that melded the newly-cut grass into its borders of newly chopped brush. It was wide and bright in the next day's sun, broken only by the footsteps of my big dog venturing out into the wideness. It was cold; icicles hung from the west eave of the old, sagging, shed roof, protected from the morning warmth.
My photos remind me last year I had left my car out front, in anticipation of the drift that often falls across the last turn of my road, just before the barnyard where I usually park. There were casings of ice on the wires, bits and pieces waiting to fall, bright white against a bright blue sky.
There were always drifts, there and at the turn onto the Mansion Road, and I no longer want to say aloud how many years it has been since that lifelong string of annual drifting broke. And, of course, it is only the middle of March, it can still snow, as it has, of significance, into April.
A year ago the pasture had been cut, the fence posts set, the trench for the water trough dug, the pipe to feed the hydrant installed, the earth put back in place. Ancient daffodils that had been hidden by overgrowth for years had popped up, encouraged by the February sun, only to stall in place, as though their essence had retreated back into the deep bulbs, leaving the spears dormant husks.
The deer were still standing, baffled, where their refuge of brush reaching out from the far wall of the north lot had been. Autumn was just delighted at the activity, a little dog to chase about, newly cut sticks to carry, and people about paying attention to her.
She had no idea more permanent guests were in the offing.
It hasn't been a year, yet, since the three Icelandic horses arrived on a sunny April day but it feels we have all come full circle with the suddenly longer afternoons.
I grumbled over the weekend that the springing ahead was coming too soon, it could wait a week and not have the sun rising, if only for a few days, after seven. But the birds are singing and the deer appearing in the dusky pre-dawn, unaware of any clock. Then, yesterday, I came home, and instead of putting together dinner, reached in the freezer for a near-empty carton, holding all of a heaping teaspoon and-a-half of chocolate ice cream “made with fresh cream & rich cocoa.”
There were drips in the depths of the carton and I went outside into the long light of 5:51 p.m., scraping the interior of the box with a spoon — fresh cream and real cocoa, after all — watching Autumn run over into the pasture. The horses were gathered by the tack room, munching on their afternoon ration of hay, mindless of my silly dog who went to their water trough, high and full, and started lapping from it. I thought of telling her it was the same water, from the same well, as that in her bowl but got distracted by the realization there was more ice cream on my hand than in the spoon — amazing how far a very little melted chocolate can go — and I set the empty box on the wall, wondering at the glow of the golden hour and the extraordinary transformation of the land in a year.
Autumn will wend her way around big horse feet in search of spilled food but has no interest in plain hay and was already back to me when a slight breeze knocked the empty carton and spoon onto the ground, where, finally, I noticed the daffodils, at the same stage they had reached a year and a month ago. The little section of wall behind them has been rebuilt, all manner of disturbance has taken place after that initial clearing, nevertheless, they persist, these iron flowers, silent notes in the song of spring.