They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter.
-William Carlos Williams, By the Road to the Contagious Hospital

Never make life-changing decisions at 4 o-clock in the morning. Or in February.

For several years, I worked nights at a mental health facility for youth – the graveyard shift, 11 PM to 7 AM. Apart from my regular rounds and a once-nightly visit from the supervisor, I sat much of the time in silence and a fragile pool of light, with darkness hovering outside the window and bleeding down the halls. The dim lights of other buildings made the isolation feel more acute.

So often we hear, “trust your feelings”. I disagree. Know your feelings, but do not trust them – especially in the hours before dawn, when dark thoughts take wing and the black dog waits outside the window.

A faint peach light seeps above dark trees as dawn begins on Head Lake.
First Blush of Dawn, Head Lake, Algonquin Park

As a physician highly regarded for his humanity and care, William Carlos Williams must have known the loneliness of the pre-dawn: waiting at the bedside of a patient, or walking an empty hallway to his own echoing footsteps. But as an observer of Nature, he also knew that night and winter always end.

But now the stark dignity of
entrance — Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted, they
grip down and begin to awaken

Those attuned to Nature always see the seed of the next season in the present one: death in life; life in death. In the height of summer, the first flocks of starlings foreshadow autumn. The bloom of asters and goldenrod in September – the swelling gall on the stem – hints at winter to come, even while the dust of summer still glazes the horizon. In the depths of winter, in February, when the sun seems remote and grey trees rattle in cold winds, the croak of high-spiralling ravens speaks of spring glimpsed far to the south. Just when the darkness seems interminable, a morning dawns with the sound of running water and the scent of earth.

I don’t know why Lauren lost hope. I knew her as the daughter of a friend and an occasional babysitter for my son. In those rare times that we would meet on the street, we always took time to stand and chat. She had a bright, summer smile. She reminded me of sunflowers.

I walked around the City today. In a patch of thawing earth against a south wall, I found a few, green blades pushing up through the soil from buried bulbs. A cardinal sang from a tree. A pair of chickadees flitted back and forth from a birdhouse on a front porch. House sparrows chattered gregariously under the eaves of an old house.

Young ostrich ferns unfurl amidst tender leaves of trout lilies.
Ostrich Fern and Trout Lily, Richmond Fen Swamp

It probably would have made no difference, but I wish that I could have told Lauren about those nights when I waited for the faintest lightening of the eastern sky – for that moment when black pales to deep blue. I wish that she’d seen the almost imperceptible flush of green edging the scale of a leaf bud before it even begins to swell. I would like to have said to her, “wait for morning, wait for Spring”.