Harriet Freiberger: We are the spring


— Here in our mountain valley, Mother Nature supersedes the calendar, and clearly visible reasons explain why Memorial Day marks the change in seasons. While some folks identify this holiday with the beginning of summer, for us the last Monday in May says springtime.

Only a few weeks ago, mid-May seemed like autumn. If there were no calendar and we had newly arrived on the scene, we might have thought winter loomed ahead, rather than behind us. Conversations around town centered on a dreary outlook that questioned whether snow would cease to fall and when winter would end. Old-timers, of course, knew, but they only smiled and nodded their heads. New folks have to figure these things out for themselves.

We all eventually find out that snow in the Yampa Valley can happen during any month of the year, reminding us that we are not in charge of everything. Civilizations of old discovered the Earth's rhythmic cycles around the sun, and today, even though technology advises that the month of May indicates springtime, we accede to Mother Nature's rule. When another foot of snow covers the road, we don boots and long-sleeved shirts.

Now, finally, tiny salt-and-pepper flowers have broken through warming brown earth. We know it is indeed springtime, when we can look forward to summer's long daylight hours. Anticipating green that will soon spread across the valley lifts spirits dampened by months of cautious driving on icy roads and shoveling snow. There's something precious about seeing those first bright yellow snow lilies and miniature buttercups. June 21 will arrive soon enough, and we need to savor these few weeks of transition.

It is no accident that our recognition of the dead who have fallen in the service of our country comes at this time of the year.

We humans have, since our early understanding of mortality, scattered flowers upon gravesites. After the Civil War, an outpouring of grief united the thousands who had lost fathers, brothers, sons and husbands. They looked to each other for solace. Southern women, in cities and towns devastated by the war, gathered at cemeteries. There was little of anything that remained in abundance, thus the commemoration had to occur when nature offered its flowers. Springtime brought back to life the welcome blossoms of trees and shrubs and planted perennials that thrived in spite of the blood that had been spilled around them.

What at first were separate remembrances of Union and Confederate soldiers slowly changed to include them all, and then, later, to honor all who died in The Great War. In each decade of the 20th century, new names have been added to our rolls of the dead, and we continue to comfort one another. In 1966, some hundred years after the first Decoration Day, Congress officially designated the memorial observance as a national holiday. Today, with all our differences, we stand together, watching in respectful silence as our nation's colors are lowered to half-staff. Here, at our cemetery on the hill, we shall remember, looking over 264 graves marked in tribute, each small, waving flag honoring one of our own.

Yes, there's something precious about springtime, something that means surviving winter and looking forward to summer. For those whose lives we remember today, we are their springtime, the hope of the future they never saw. Whether or not we agree with the war that called them to report for duty, whether or not we agree with the reason they fought, they wore the uniform of our country. In their eyes, they were living up to an obligation that citizenship required. It is, as President Lincoln said, "for us the living" to build a path to the future, a summer of blossoms way beyond our present imagining - the June, July and August of a nation's calendar. We are the springtime that can make it happen.


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