By Naomi Klouda
“We could never have loved the earth so well if we had no childhood in it – if it were not the earth where the same flowers come up every spring that we used to gather with our tiny fingers as we sat lisping to ourselves on the grass, the same redbreasts that we used to call “God’s birds” because they did no harm to the precious crops. What novelty is worth that sweet monotony where everything is known and loved because it is known?”
These words were written more than 150 years ago by George Eliot in the “Mill on the Floss.” Is she expressing a sentiment people in our edge of the millennium can easily relate to? I think so. Those thoughts in spring when the familiar comes back, when the birds return and we long to greet them like returning friends and family.
Eliot was talking about a feeling from childhood in the well-practiced ritual of connection between the natural world and the self, how being and observing bonds us to landscapes. Later in the fall, as it all comes undone, as the leaves fall down and the light lessens and cold drives the birds south, a connection is still there in a matching grief. But now is the time of jubilation for the youthful days of the season, one we might notice more ardently after a record-breaking winter of snow trials and tribulations.
How useful the Victorian authors are for reminding us of the drama in simply greeting our seasons. Eliot was a poet and comedic writer on a scale as grand as anything Charles Dickens wrote, that other melodramatic Victorian. I found “Mill on the Floss” at the Homer Public Library’s book sale and thought I ought to buy it, much in the same spirit as one feels while standing in the oatmeal aisle at the grocery store, pondering the better merits of its nutrition over the guilty possibilities of bacon and eggs. In one of my college lit courses, I had read it and remembered only vague things about it, probably because I had to rush and stumbled on archaic words I couldn’t understand. Now was my chance to do right by the thing, in buying it and attempting it again.
It turns out the book is no less enjoyable than bacon and eggs, and highly nutritious to boot. Eliot has me laughing about poor Maggie and feeling her horror, all by turns. Then, I look up from its pages and notice what a different world I live in, yet somehow not so. How universal certain experiences stand in place while time turns around them. How seasons are remembrances. How landscapes rest tantamount to love of dear people who have inhabited our lives. How for all the changes wrought by technology and a complicated no-longer innocent age, there is still a field, a sea shore, a bird, a flower to inspire peace.
And for whatever complaints we might heap up in a towering stack – the corruption of an economic system, the brutality of our wars, the sorry plight of many peoples, Eliot can outdo some of those. Maggie’s biggest problem was that she was born a girl. She was smarter than her brother, Tom, but for him, the world was spread out like a red carpet, or least it seemed so. For her, there would be no education outside of the few books she could grab ahold of, but a rigid life of conforming to fashions and lady-like actions, to be meek for her so-called superiors – men. Poverty and horror awaited a back-sliding woman if she failed in allowing the superior beings to protect her.
Not too different from what the Grand Old Party wants for American girls, but hey, in Eliot’s day, those men had the say. We have today, a time when, at least in this country, women can make their own decisions.
Thanks to her writings, I am reminded of my own many precious privileges. I am reminded of my archive of springs when the landscape remembers itself to me and I was but a piece of it. I then feel such gratitude for the manner in which the season rides in like an eraser, replacing winter’s cold memory with a new scene, an ancient, clean-scented thing like a sheet fresh from the clothesline. Then, I can utter to myself: Oh, spring. So glad you made it back.
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