Surprised, as Usual

Spring has been off and on, back and forth, this year, which isn’t all that unusual though everybody thinks it is.

20160509 closeupWhat is somewhat unusual is that when I didn’t see the shadbush blooming in the woods at the end of April, I didn’t assume I’d missed them. I assumed they were late.

As usual I was wrong. They were right on time.

The blooming of the shadbush is sign that spring is really here. It’s named for the shad, which are said to start running at the same time. Shad is a subspecies of herring. A neighbor up the road pointed out that we don’t have shad on Martha’s Vineyard, but “herring bush” sounds too fishy to me. Besides, I call them “ghost trees” for the way the blossoms seem to float deep in the woods, suspended in the air.

20160509 shad 1Every year I try to take a photo that conveys what my eyes see, and every year I fail. My photography skills and my little point-and-shoot aren’t up to it. But I keep trying. I’m much, much more competent with words than I am with a camera, but I often can’t get the words to say exactly what I mean either.

My hiking companion tolerates — up to a point — my frequent stops to pull my camera from my hip pocket and try one more time. He takes the opportunity to nose in the leaves and inspect the trees for news of whatever’s passed this way since yesterday.

Travvy says "Enough is enough. Come on already."

Travvy says “Enough is enough. Come on already.”

In West Tisbury the ghost trees bloom when the oak leaves are just budding and brambles and pine are the only obvious green in the woods. When I passed through Vineyard Haven late yesterday afternoon, the oaks along State Road were almost fully leafed out. Spring arrives down-island before it comes to my town. This is true every year, and every year I’m surprised by the difference a few miles make.

In last year’s blog about the ghost flowers I noted that the late Dionis Coffin Riggs, poet and perceptive observer of the natural world, gave May 10 as the date for the shadbush blooming. As usual, she was right on target.

At the end of that post I wrote: “Now that ‘May 10’ is imprinted in my non-digital memory, I’m going to stop expecting the ghost trees at the end of April.”

As usual I was wrong.

Off Old Courthouse Road, May 2015

Off Old Courthouse Road, May 2015



About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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9 Responses to Surprised, as Usual

  1. I’m just back from a long week in Maine where I witnessed the subtle changes annoucing the spring. Like you I first thought it was far slower than usual, but other photos proved me wrong.
    Enjoy the season. I smile when I read the caption accompanying Travis’s photo. My husband says the same thing about me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. jlfatgcs says:

    Thank you, Susanna. I have seen ghost trees, yet never knew what they were called. I love the photo taken at a distance in the woods.


  3. erbrandon says:

    Thanks Susanna … I was wondering what these beauties were, suddenly blooming along my Wooded Chilmark road.


  4. Found this in “Collected Poems of Dionis Coffin Riggs.”


    There comes a moment
    In the thin spring woods
    When the old gray trees
    Are veiled with the white
    Of shadblow

    When the sun shines through
    The shadbush leaves
    Of a Japanese print,
    And pale white petals
    Of shadblow

    When the south wind blows
    And the shadbush quivers,
    Alive in the wind, and the sun,
    And the sound of the sea,
    And the touch of a bird
    On the shadblow tree.

    — Dionis Coffin Riggs

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ghost trees….OMG soooo cool! I want one!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Shirley says:

    Nice comments, Susanna – I, too, wondered where the shadbush were a couple weeks ago, so am relieved to see them out now.. With the world of humans being rather crazy now, it scares me when nature doesn’t seem to be working right either. Weird weather all over the USA and nature out of whack? I guess I am the one out of whack – but now I can blame it on my very advanced age. And you are right about the Oak trees – my big one outside my window is almost ready to burst into leaf – thank goodness!

    Liked by 1 person

    • When I drove through Vineyard Haven en route to rehearsal yesterday, I really was startled by how leafy and green the trees were — that light spring green that turns darker as summer approaches. It was ike driving from late winter into mid-spring. Cynthia told me that Dionis expected the shadbush to bloom on May 10, and when I looked at my photos from previous years, sure enough, half of them were dated May 10 and the rest were all between May 6 and May 11. This year I saw a few at the very end of last week, but by Monday (the 9th) they were all over the place.


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