Sun shines through the leaves on to chestnut candles just before they are ready to light up their tiny white flowers. Pink blossom promises a profusion of plenty before it carpets streets and lawns. The bright light contrasts starkly with the prospect of a future unknown. The only flights are of birds seeking twigs and straws to build nests after pecking for food in tree trunks and, with difficulty, in the parched earth. No rain is forecast. Bright springtime activity as usual in the avian world, their wings unclipped by lockdown.
In this quiet, I keep returning to a thought that nestles at the back of my mind. Virginia Woolf described such uncanny stillness when she crossed the garden of a London square in September 1939. Bloomsbury, where many writers lived in the 1930s, was a quiet enclave in the throbbing heart of a city. It was a still, quiet moment of beauty amid apprehension. A time to stand and stare at the intense greenness of spring, the colour of hope that now haunts my waking dreams.Young leaves, pale green or yellowy and veined in pink. Deep evergreens hold shrieking yellow clumps of gorse. Underfoot are islands of white-flowering wild geraniums and the hardier yellow buttercups. When butter was rationed in wartime and post-war Britain, children used to tease one another by holding a buttercup under a chin. If it reflected yellow, you loved butter and in some magical way would have more than your meagre ration. It reflected hungry hope.
The empty streets of De Chirico’s cities have morphed into real ones worldwide where the lone outsider assumes almost epic status. During the forty-minute walks allowed outside one’s habitation, I often pass a grey figure who looks as if he is from an out of focus photo. Hooded, head down and walking with a slight shuffle, bent slightly under a small bundle, he might be the one who sleeps in a slight hollow I have noticed huddling into a clump of gorse bushes. His greyness would curl almost unnoticed on the caked earth. The bushes shield him to the north-west, leaving open the south-east side for the morning sun to wake and warm him. Make-do. Better than nothing. There are Tesco store handouts at closing time just before sunset. He is clinging on to life in green surroundings, the colour of hope.
It reminds me of the words from Saint John’s Gospel, of the three theological virtues – Faith, Hope and Charity, or Love. Hope is the goodness of others for survival, faith in that help, in that heart-breaking tenderness that one sees every day on television reports of caring for others in hospitals and care homes. Saint John adds, perhaps in a telling afterthought, that the greatest of these is charity, that is love.