The following is a timely excerpt from Robert Farrar Capon’s The Youngest Day, a collection of musings on the four seasons in the light of grace. In this passage, from a section titled “Spring: Judgment,” the author takes a morning run around his home on Shelter Island, NY.

One of the pleasures of running, at least in the distracted way I go about it, is exploration. I don’t think people actually experience much of that nowadays. Whenever they go someplace they haven’t been before, they’re almost always in a car. That’s hardly exploring, though. Routes you can cover in a car have a certain sameness about them. Oh, I know. You’re going to tell me there are a thousand different kinds of roads. Well of course there are—for a while at least, until the shopping malls grow together and cut off the scenery completely. But there are a billion different kinds of roads if you’re not stuck behind a wheel.

The biggest thing wrong with gas-powered exploration is the nature of the automobile itself. Its ability to make remote places accessible invariably tricks you into thinking there are no enchantments except at some distance from home. Which is a mistake because the real joy of exploring lies not in the negative satisfaction of finding someplace you never saw before but in the positive thrill of discovering that a place you always thought you knew has inner chambers you never even suspected. Hidden passageways and tucked-away rooms—inscapes rather than landscapes—are the very stuff of exploration. But you find them only on foot. No one ever caught an inscape from a car.

And even on foot you can miss them. Getting the boy out of the car is one thing; getting the car out of the boy is something else. For the first few years I ran, I still acted more as if I were driving than on foot. In fact I literally drove myself; I clocked distances, checked times, and bragged about mileage…

As a matter of fact, I ran around the outside of this place for months before I finally stopped assuming there were just houses in here and actually went and looked…

The orchard; come and see. It’s not in bloom yet, and it’s been untended for so long it doesn’t even flower much, let alone bear fruit. Still, it’s a great place to walk through morning by morning, especially in the spring when the angle of the light on the trees is different every day and green shoots begin to break through the mat of dead grass. In summer, though, you stay clear of it: too many ticks. This island is one of the places (along with Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard) where you can pick up a social-climbing malady called babesiosis: after giving you a usually unnoticed bite, the almost equally unnoticeable deer tick surprises you with a blood parasite that produces nausea, fever, anemia and jaundice. One bout is enough.

At the edge of the orchard, though, just beyond the line of copper beeches and weeping beeches over there, is a better surprise: a greenhouse. Not just a run-of-the-mill commercial job, either: this one is a genuine, old-fashioned richman’s-plaything. Actually it was a rich woman’s plaything, or so I’ve been told, but in any case it’s complete with two wings (glass porticoes, no less, at either end and curved glass all along the eaves) plus the obligatory Greek-revival center section with porch and a big, fenced-in garden out in front. There! Is that a toy and a half, or isn’t it? Once again, I’m not clear who owns it now but whoever does isn’t around much. Somebody seems to put in a little time on it—there are plants inside that look quite good—but the care doesn’t extend to the garden. That’s been allowed to go luxuriously to seed. Come June it’ll be fence-to-fence lupine in more colors and combinations than you’ve ever seen.

Wild! That’s the reaction I finally have to this place. Not just because it’s gone more than halfway back to nature but because even the original cultivation seems to have been done by a mind not given to taming its enthusiasms. The size of the orchard, the pretensions of the greenhouse, and the profusion of lupine all argue a certain penchant for excess. But to me what clinches the case is the apparent wildness over beech trees that possessed the mind of the lady who laid out these grounds. Not content with weeping beeches predictably and hugely sad or with copper beeches merely and expectably magnificent, the monomania drove its victim to something I for one have never seen anywhere: a beech hedge all along the wooded northeast side of the property. Yes, I said hedge: over a quarter of a mile of it. Made years ago by planting beech saplings two feet apart and then trimming them into a wall as they grew together. Except at twenty-foot intervals where larger beeches were cut into balls to break up the monotony.

When I first came here, it was kept trimmed to perfection—so much so that before I actually explored behind it I assumed it was the first line of defense of a mansion to end all mansions. But as you’ve seen, it isn’t. It’s just a bizarre frame around an ambitious boondoggle—cared for, the story goes, by the original gardener even after the original owner had passed on to the ultimate beech grove in the sky. And cared for out of love, I like to imagine—perhaps not just for beech trees but even for the late lady of the manor herself. Is there any truth to that? I have no idea. Islands, having tenuous ties with reality, tend to breed romance. Still, I do know that about three years ago somebody stopped trimming it, so maybe there’s something to it after all—if not here then hereafter, with the two of them on the eschatological plantation singing “O Mother Dear Jerusalem”:

But there they live in such delight,
Such pleasure and such play,
As that to them a thousand years
Doth seem as yesterday.

The tune, by the way, is “Materna,” more commonly set to the words of “O Beautiful for Spacious Skies.” Pick it up in the middle with me; it fits my conceit about this place to perfection.

Thy vineyards and thy orchards are
Most beautiful and fair,
Full furnished with trees and fruit
Most wonderful and rare.

Thy gardens and thy gallant walks
Continually are green;
There grow such sweet and pleasant flowers
As nowhere else are seen.

Quite through the streets with silver sound
The flood of life doth flow,
Upon whose banks on every side
The wood of life doth grow.

But even if I’m wrong to bark up the romantic tree, I know I’m right about the eschatological one. For here at this hedge, on this spring morning, nature delivers an authentic last word. I don’t know how much attention you’ve ever paid to beech trees in bud but, for my money, they’re the very paradigm of judgment. In March, the buds are still mostly what they’ve been all winter: pointed, tightly rolled little cigars with dark wrappers. But as April swells them, the outer scales lighten and the almost invisible hairs at their edges grow and brighten into silver gray. Finally, however, as the buds open and the leaves disclose themselves, the authoritative word comes: like Jesus opening his right hand at the day of judgment and showing us creation as he holds it, the beech tree says, “Here: this is what I had in mind.”

Spring is the youngest, freshest day of the world, the definitive disclosure of what life was meant to be and of the resurrection that won’t take no for an answer. No matter that on this very hedge there still hang last year’s leaves, dead and dry, the voice that calls forth this year’s insists on a new creation: pleated and perfect, tender and pale, the leaves break out of the buds in soft green clusters—the closest thing in the world to the lips of God.

At the end of the Book of Revelation—at the last day of the old world when the first heaven and the first earth have passed away and the new Jerusalem comes down from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband—the Lamb who sits on the throne says, “Behold, I make all things new.”

The Word’s final word is nothing less than what he says springtime by springtime as he vindicates the shape of everything and everyone afresh. And our reaction to that word—unless we turn from it with deaf ears and estranged faces—cannot help but be the heart’s astonishment we’ve always had at the world that springs fresh from the speaking of the Word.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And to know the place for the first time.

We simply love all youngest days. The last one can’t possibly be an exception.

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