The signs appeared this week, before the first week in November had passed. ‘Bareroot whitethorn’, ‘bareroot laurel’, ‘bareroot beech’, declare successive signs; ‘25% off’ declares a fourth.
In the greyness of a sunless November day, the signs were reassuring, encouraging, cheering even. They pointed to the approach of spring. The solstice might still be six weeks away, but here were definite indications that winter would be passing and that the time had come to prepare for better days. There could be no better statement of the anticipation of warmer days than people spending actual money on actual plants in expectation of actual growth.
Anticipation seems always one of the best things in life. Frequently that which is anticipated does not turn out as might have been expected, (which is certainly the case with spring and summer in Ireland), but that does nothing to reduce the sense of anticipation.
Anticipatory signs have the capacity to change moods. One late October morning in Dublin, a gust of wind blew away leaves that had gathered under a tree and that had become light and crisp in a spell of dry weather. Their move revealed a clump of snowdrop shoots, no more than a quarter of an inch high, but there nonetheless. There was a momentary sense of lightness, a feeling that even though November had not been reached, spring was on its way.
Easter would bring a sudden increase in the traffic passing down our road after the ferry had arrived in Dun Laoghaire harbour; in holiday times the number plates would include many from Britain or continental Europe. They were a surer sign than the arrival of the first swallow that summer was coming; their presence on our road a pointer to our own annual holidays now being on the horizon. August must soon come and the journey to Rosslare to catch the boat.
Moving to the country meant anticipatory signs assumed a previously unimagined significance. The winter days in 2010 made ministering in a scattered rural parish all but impossible; driving a little Peugeot on untreated roads in double digit frost was challenging. Any sign of the weather breaking was to be seized upon; it seemed odd to be praying for a wet and windy weather front to come in from the south-west, to wish earnestly for a green Christmas seemed unromantic but hard-headed. To see snowdrops in flower in the first days of January 2012 seemed a declaration of triumph over the winter; throw at us what it might, the days had turned, the light would be coming back, we were unbeaten.
Living life in anticipation used to seem odd; the amount of money we spent on pensions, the amount of effort we spent getting ready for Christmas, and other celebrations; the amount of time we spent worrying about the future. But there seems in nature a natural tendency towards anticipation, towards providing hints of what is to come.
Bareroot whitethorn – a much more significant anticipatory sign than Christmas decorations in November.