After a long, cold, snowy winter, Alabama is exploding with pent-up color. Carefully tended gardens are brimming with tulips and irises framed in brick-edged beds, but the wild thickets by the side of the road are rioting. Wild invasive wisteria vines are blooming in huge untended mountains of purple, their pendant blooms spilling over the country roads. Redbuds that blossom along their trunks and limbs have turned a violent puce, as if they’d been electrified overnight. Oak-leaf hydrangeas, their blooms the size of soft balls, fill shady corners under the pines. Park your car anywhere outside and when you return in an hour, it’s covered in lime-green dust.
In all of this profusion, there is one element of Shaker simplicity, one slender note of absolute purity—the wild dogwood. Deep in the shade of pine and oak, a white glimpse of unglazed porcelain floats in the upper branches. Beginning in early March as pale green flickers, then a soft fawn, dogwood blossoms finally turn a bright, creamy white, as if a smudged sheet of paper were to turn spotless. Five flat white petals with a deep red center. They don’t droop or spill, but float in the air as if resting on long arms.
This spring I’m knitting a cardigan for summer, the Pinnate Cardigan by Amy Christophers (Pinnate Cardigan). About a month ago, I chose an organic cotton yarn in a pale shade, nearly white, with flecks of what spinners call “vegetal matter.” It wasn’t until the dogwoods opened this month that I saw the connection. I’m knitting with the same creamy white I see outside my window.
My pattern has a lacy leaf motif in panels along its length, and as I add leaf after leaf to my sweater, I can see that spring is doing the same. Every day another bare, grey tree leafs out. The weeds spring out of the lawn as if to get a headstart on the mower. The days lengthen, and I see that yet again in my herb garden the mint has survived the winter and is setting up outposts in the future territory of my basil and thyme.
Thoreau, when spring came to Walden Pond, wrote in his journal, “there is nothing inorganic.” This year, I think I know what he meant. The skein of cotton yarn, neatly coiled in my basket, bound by its paper label, comes to life with the dogwood’s petals, the weeds and wisteria, and like me, at my knitting, hearkening to the mockingbird’s whistle and thrum.