The first signs of spring are there now. In the narrow bed by the kitchen window, the climbing roses that I cut back hard to the bud in deep winter are flushing out leaves. Cumquats are green on the bushes down the back, and in the dark chocolate soil there are signs of crimson new growth on the dormant nubs of peonies.
These are little flinches of hope in a world that seems otherwise stripped of it, a world treading water in a strange and apprehensive hiatus; signs of nature’s perpetual, rhythmic press forward. It abideth forever.
I’m waiting for the first person I know to die. Will that happen? Will Covid touch this intimate circle, will it show its face? Might it be me? Her? Them? How would that feel, to wake one morning with a rasping throat and the quick shadow of dread. Someone else would be worse. Knowing now the well-rehearsed impossibilities of goodbyes. The naked loneliness of that choking end.
It’s a statistical possibility. There are hundreds of cases in this council area, people will be feeling that rasp as I write this, meeting the implacable gaze of sickness and fate.
But even as we lock down into stage four, and face that strange night-time novelty, that it would actually be illegal to leave the house, the roses will still push through their cycle, moving from those first creased and glossy leaves, to stems, and buds, and blooms.
Not even death would stop next door’s majestic tulip tree from filling out those first fingers of its coming blooms and then touching the summer months with shade.
Nature feels suddenly more real these weeks, enviably unmoved as we ache quietly for certainty. It’s been there with us all along: the flush of new green grass in the park that greeted the first lockdown back in March, then the falling of leaves, and the stark bare limbs of elm and oak, the turf now springy with water and the world of mud contained by a waiting mesh of roots.
The trees are still bare out there but beautifully stark, gnarled fingers scratching for sun and sky.
The 3am magpie is back, having flown obliviously across borders and lockdown. It’s been gone since last summer, when for weeks I wondered what on earth that bird was, giving out that repeated—precisely, pedantically repeated—seven-note phrase at an almost regular 30 second repetition, from 3am or so until dawn. And then, quite late in the season, that little darkness phrase picked up the odd magpie warble and settled the puzzle of identity. But there’s still a nagging question of why. Why that phrase? Why so often through the long dark before dawn?
But it’s reassuring now, another sign of life beyond 11am press conferences, and the daily lottery of infection figures and death.
Other constancies are less warming. There’s been sudden Twitter talk of ‘leadership crisis’, as if the routine vacuities of politics-a-usual might still assert themselves even though the stakes for leadership have suddenly become life and death. It seems hard to imagine this as a time for that contest, for the claiming of scalps, the empty thrusts of cynically held ideology.
One prominent commentator suggests that lockdown is futile, we should simply contain the elderly; 40% of whom would die within six months in aged care anyway, so, why kill the economy?
It’s an inhuman logic and depressing. There was the hope when this began, that the business of politics might be confounded by this deadly problem of a pandemic: a crisis where the consequences were real, were mortal, were so much more than the fatuous stakes of the routine political game, when all that matters is a self-aggrandising triumph in the news cycle, not this longer wrestle with infection and death.
That hasn’t quite come true, though sometimes it seems we have been backed into some kind of corner, putting our faith in leadership, trusting in the competence and dedication of the people we elect. Who are flawed. And have stuffed up. But then keep turning up, day by day, an anchor in this quiet chaos; stars to steer by.
It’s a full moon in a couple of nights. The magpie will be singing by three.