The Cusp of Spring


If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm it, I know that is poetry.

Emily Dickinson

By Dr. Jim Ferguson

Every spring I’m struck by trees coated with a snow-like dusting of a late winter storm. However, it’s the white flowers on pear and plum trees in my orchard, on ubiquitous Bradford pear trees around town and also on many fruiting trees occurring in the wild. I think it is more than just my heightened awareness of the cusp of spring or greater visibility due to the absence of leaves. I believe the lingering drab and brown background of winter showcases spring’s white flowers dotting the landscape.

Apparently, the Pennsylvania groundhog got it right this year about an early spring, even though it was 31 degrees last week with a heavy frost.

There’s an old saw that goes, “It ain’t over til the fat lady sings.” I fancy this is a reference to the breastplated Brunhilda in Wagner’s operatic “Ring” opus.

I’m sure most remember the blizzard of March 13, 1993. Although I’m convinced the epicenter of that early spring snowstorm was on my street, every Knoxvillian has stories from that week. A gardener friend once told me not to plant anything until April 15 (income Tax Day) to avoid a late winter Hail Mary.

We are on the cusp of spring, and I have spring fever. I yearn for the uniquely chartreuse green of new life, poetically captured by Robert Frost:


Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf’s a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf,

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.


I’ll bet you weren’t expecting a poem. But did the beautiful wordsmithing and imagery give you the shivers as Emily Dickens alludes to? Like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’ll find in “The Doctor Is In” column.

My daughter, Emily is a middle school language arts teacher and taught her science-based father this beautiful poem. She also introduced me to the 1967 coming-of-age book “The Outsiders” by S. E. Hinton which was later made into a movie directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

Last week Hollywood gave out awards for movies. However, I haven’t paid any attention to the Oscars since “Saving Private Ryan” lost the Best Picture award to “Shakespeare in Love” in 1998. The fictionalized biopic of the Bard’s life was a good movie, but not the stature of “Saving Private Ryan.” But then the movie critics always list “Citizen Kane” as the best movie of all time. Orson Wells may be a great actor – he did cause a general panic with his dramatic radio broadcast of “The War of the Worlds.” However, I think “Citizen Kane” stinks. What can I say? I know what I like and I don’t need a Hollywood critic to tell me what’s good. Perhaps the jazz legend, Count Basie, said it best. “If it sounds good, it is.”

The 1983 movie “The Outsiders” did not win an Oscar despite a famous director and a who’s who of actors: Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez and Tom Cruise. Noteworthy is a famous line from the book and movie that hearkens to Frost’s poem with an admonition to the protagonist, “Stay gold Ponyboy.” In other words, hold onto your youthful innocence.

I like movies, but I have difficulty finding a “good” one. I thought “Oppenheimer” was good, but not great. I don’t need the “Academy” to tell me what I should like. And before you waste your money, I thought “Dune: Part Two” was poor, despite my love of science fiction. Films are a different medium and sometimes imagery can dramatically add to a story. The “Dune” movie did not do justice to Frank Herbert’s 1966 book, arguably the greatest science fiction work of the 20th century.

Thankfully, the gloom of February is fading. My Lenten Roses are beautiful. I love the green and purple of Liriope around my home, and I’m cheered by the yellow of Daffodils and Forsythia.

These days I need the beauty and color of spring amidst the disasters of Dark Brandon and his administration. Confused by the metaphor? If you know, you know. Recently, an old comedy movie from 1967 came to mind. “The Producers” starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder was a farcical story about a theater production called “Springtime for Hitler.” It strikes me as a parody of today’s reality with Dark Brandon.

You may be surprised by the direction of this week’s column. Predictably, I write about history, politics, science, spirituality, medicine and philosophy. But I’ve also written about books, travel, art and music; and this week I’ve emphasized movies and poetry.  I once wrote essays about medicine, but I’m now retired and that life is largely gone. I make no excuse for the title of my column because I can’t divorce what I was, a practicing doctor, from what I now am, a retired doctor and writer. I am fortunate to have been repurposed.

Writers like to branch out of their mold or genre. An example is John Grisham who has explored other creative directions than his popular legal thrillers like “A Time to Kill.” I’ve been blessed with this column that allowed me to become an essayist of diverse topics that I trust interest my readers. You need not be surprised by my diverse topical directions. I have written and published scientific papers and two novels. And I am working on the concluding novel of my Stellar Trilogy. And to quote the Bard, I hope to finish the trilogy before I “shuffle off this mortal coil.”

Years ago, I heard a commercial by the Prudential Insurance Company advertising investment products. Although I have no holdings with that company, their ad struck a chord by stating, “Retirement is when you pay yourself to do what you always wanted to do.” I enjoyed my career in medicine, and now I’m enjoying my second career.

I am truly blessed and glad to be alive. This morning, and every morning, I thank God for another day of life. And then, I add thanks for my loving wife and salvation from my Lord Jesus Christ.