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ESSAY: The Coming of Green


by Daniel  A.  Neary Jr.

Between the whites of the melting snows and the whites of blooming apple blossoms, the green comes to Vermont. Usually in early May, it rolls northward and upward saturating the fields, bushes and trees with verdure. Naturalist Way Teale says spring green creeps northward at the average rate of about 15 miles a day and climbs mountains at about a hundred feet a day.

It is an annual event of unsurpassed visual beauty in Vermont (a state which many believe owes half of its name to the color green). In the springtime, the color green takes on many shades. At first, the shoots of grass penetrate the matted browns in the fields. In the woods, wild plants and weeds push through the wrinkled leaves pressed together by the weight of the thick snow. Ferns yo-yo upward. Patches of skunk cabbage unwind slowly, showing large, corrugated leaves, even before the buds appear on the trees.

For a short period in the early spring, the green changes from a yellow, lighter shade to a bluer, darker color. Face into the sunlight in the morning or evening, and the spots of the leaves from the poplar trees will shimmer and glow in a delicate effulgence. At about the same time, the strands of leaves of the willows will pick up color before the leaves appear on other trees. Patches of poplars and willows will stand out as swatches of light green on an otherwise leafless hillside, long before it is drenched in foliage. Buds of the maples, first tinted red and yellow will coruscate. Look across a green meadow in the afternoon, and it will make you envy the grass-eating animals of this world … luxuriant, yellow-green blades of grass are everywhere.

Grey planes of mountainsides are now a hodge-podge of colors of the lighter greens of the meadows, next to the still darker blue green of the strands of spruce. It is all quite a contrast from the white, dark green and grey of winter and the flat browns of early spring.

In some years, when there is a sunny spell coincident with the arrival of the green, a phenomenon of incredible beauty takes place. It is impossible to photograph because the total effect occurs over several days. Only the elements comprising this natural, impressionistic sight can be pictured. The rest takes a little imagination and the ability to sustain visual experience over a couple of days.

With the sun at your back, face a ridge of mountains. Imagine the mountains are rocks on the seacoast. Look at them: cold and grey, like rocks on the shore. When the wind blows, think of it as water rushing, filling the valley; the wind becomes the water turning the branches, making them sparkle in the light. This sense of filling and crashing of water onto rocks also occurs when the green arrives. Foliage pours northward and upward over the craggy, worn forms … a wave of green takes not seconds but days to roll, crest, splash and tumble.

The mountain ridge fills with the green of spring like a wave of differing shades, patterns, swirls and froth of dotted green — first the buds bursting in the valleys on the southern side, and then, the gentler greens of the leaf sprigs in the foothills — buds at the higher elevation — now in aggregate looking almost white — in any event — lighter than the greens below. Think of the wave, the sea water rolling forward, taking on colors of the rocks and sky. At the top is the foam and then the spray. Droplets form a mist against the grey rocks. Finally, a halo of mist and spray sparkles in the light.

That’s the way green looks on the sides of the mountains in Vermont in the spring — the movement, the rolling — a time lapse sequence of spring — ocean style. Spring greens go higher up the mountains each day. Green climbs the mountain — all that it takes to get the name Vermont.