Now that we're emerging from the long winter's snowy blanket, I notice newly-bare rock walls, darkened fields, the open, slippery road, and find myself "annihilating all that's made to a green thought in a green shade." I've seen enough black and white -- and too much brown mud. I think green. Andrew Marvell got it right 350 years ago when he wrote of greenness's irresistible appeal.
In past Aprils I've walked through verdant parks and lush botanical gardens in the south, enjoying acres of flowers and nectaring butterflies after starving for them during a snail-paced New England spring just beginning to open. For the moment my yearning for greenness would be satisfied -- until returning to the Northeast Kingdom and finding it still locked in a chilly monochrome grip.
Thankfully, not true today. The last few days have been spectacular: bright, warm, free of insects, the sky illumined in Maxfield Parrish blue. I go outside and do nothing as long as possible. I look overhead at towering maples nodding expectant buds. A nearby solitary crabapple has beaten them to it; its little leaves are beginning to unfold in juvenile green. The grass spurts, the first daffodils curtsy in white and yellow, and day lilies surge on either side of a rock wall. A few butterflies -- Spring Azures, Mustard Whites, a solitary White Admiral -- dart between new green lily shafts searching for what is not yet there. Each day promises more green than the last, and with the progression, my spirit soars. "Clothe the earth with greenness," sang Coleridge, and we sing with him.
Imagination takes me back to a time in the Earth's history -- 500 million years ago -- when the barren brown landscape had no cloak of green. Simple plants lived in ancient shallow seas and were just beginning to wash up on muddy shores where they survived long enough to be lapped by waves that moistened their fragile cells. Away from the coast, the land had form but no color: it was built of mountainous rocky upthrusts and blowing deserts; it was roughened and dissected by torrential rivers that carried sand and mud torn from the land, then deposited it upon broad lowlands and in distant bays and along ocean shorelines. The stage was being set, but there were no players on the scene.
Eons passed and the green margins of streams and wetlands widened as plant mats crept onto land. They were flat and hugged the surface; they branched, groped outward and up-slope, but not yet upward into the air. Slowly the damp soil turned green with struggling plants, some of which we might recognize as today's liverworts growing on moist banks. Opportunities for photosynthesis and reproduction arose where formerly there had been none on the ancient, dusty, sun-baked land. Minerals and nutrients, accumulating in the virgin soil, nourished the green, pioneering invaders.
For the first time, spores were produced that could withstand dryness; they blew in the wind hundreds of miles and across the world to colonize other isolated moist places, where the special inheritance they carried allowed more of their kind to prosper. In their seclusion lay the secret of new shape and character, for small populations isolated from their kin have only a limited gene pool to draw upon, and because accidental mutations inevitably occur, the nature of a sequestered species departs increasingly from its ancestry. Entirely new plant specialties appeared everywhere across the waiting continents. With time and isolation from the moderating, neutralizing influence of large populations, moist pockets of ancient plants experimented by building elevated stalks and stems that rose aloft in the dry air.