Spring, that old deceiver, comes upon us again, seductively tempting us out of doors and sending us for shelter back into the warm house. Its clouds gather unexpectedly; its blossoms emerge and all too quickly fade. The poets have found inspiration in its varied moods. ''The only pretty ring-time,'' said Shakespeare; and I recall as a sort of litany from my youth the lines about April laughing her girlish laughter and then, ''a moment after,'' weeping her girlish tears. Whatever its delight for poets, for the ordinary citizen - especially for those of us in northern climes -- spring can be an exasperation and a snare.
Yet it is human to love spring, in whatever form it comes. On the island where I summer in Maine, it comes almost imperceptibly, I am told, passing over the cold woods and meadows while leaving here and there only faint witnesses to its passing. But those in the know see enough to lift their spirits after the long winter. It is not alone the promise of summer that cheers them, but this enigmatic and all but invisible presence, a mighty event in itself that is bringing changes in the grasses and berries of a still arctic landscape. Maine men and women would perhaps not be able to endure the seasons except for their trained eye; and they are the better for their long expectations and faithful vigils.
A loving attention to the changes of the seasons, and to their effects upon a patient earth, not only assures us of our humanity. It is also one of the best guarantees that the procession of nature will continue into the long future. At present a mad contest for superiority in the number of nuclear warheads has gripped the two most powerful nations of the world. They possess between them the capacity to destroy life on this planet. Seeming to hold the key to survival , they are in fact the slaves of error, mischance and the play of irrational forces. What the outcome will be depends in large part upon the ability of the great mass of mankind to rouse itself and to make itself felt on the side of life.
Those who lead this surge of humanity are not going to be theorists, speaking in abstract or metaphysical terms. They are going to be men and women who have a deep sense of the beauty and fragility of this earth; who have watched with a knowing eye the unfolding of flowers and the flight of birds; who cherish the miracle of spring in its annual recurrence. Generations bred apart from the land , confined to asphalt pavements and an environment inhumanly contrived, may fear for their own lives and the lives of those immediately around them. But that is not enough to save us. All perish and pass away in time. But the earth abides, and as we see its beauty and are determined to preserve it for unborn generations, we serve a transcendent cause.
We have one more spring. No healthy-spirited person could want to suppose it might be the last spring. Yet in proportion as we may be able to grasp that possibility we may be the better able to keep the promise of springs to come. In proportion as we cry down the forces of destruction, the measures and countermeasures now threatening to overcome our comprehension and our will, we may save not only ourselves but the world of which we are inseparably a part.
The environmental movement, it seems to me, has taken on an entirely new dimension. Striving to keep the earth clean and habitable, the airs fresh, the waters clear, it has become a movement to make possible the preservation of nature itself. Those who once thought of keeping a small space green must now think of keeping the natural world alive. The enemies of the environmentalists were a few years ago heedless industrialists and dispersers of toxic wastes. Today their enemies are found in often well-meaning statesmen, in worried bureaucrats, in ignorant or fallible engineers, scientists, administrators -- wherever the atomic arms race gains encouragement or the deployment of atomic arms is seriously considered. The enemy is in some part of each one of us, that part which is complacent, or timid, or unwilling to face reality.
Meanwhile the spring advances. It spreads its message of hope. Perhaps for the first time in human history it carries, too, a message of warning.