Looking forward to spring and joking about winter’s reluctance to release its claws on the north has been my automatic response to February for as far back as I can remember. It was my go-to response yesterday when overcast conditions indicated the groundhog would give us an early spring. But even as I joked and enthused that spring had sprung, I was filled with an undeniable sense of dread. I remembered the relief I felt when winter came early last fall.
The blurb for our Condo promised maintenance-free living and over the last two years it has certainly delivered. No mowing, no weeding, no shoveling snow. This is supposed to be a good thing. In the winter I look down at people chipping at ice and shoveling snow off their driveways and think, maybe Condo life isn’t so bad. I do shovel off our balcony, which is a dicey affair, especially when the snow is wet and heavy. With each toss you need to first look over the rail to make sure no one is below. I feel like I should yell something out each time, like Timber! or Fore! but I don’t know what the term would be for snow coming down from the balcony above.
Anyway, winter isn’t so bad in an apartment, but when summer arrives and I see someone mowing their lawn it makes me want to shoulder check them to the curb and take over. My hands twitch in my pockets when I walk past curbside flower beds.
Spring is the absolute worst.
In my old life spring meant a joyous renewal. Baby chicks at the post office, tubes of bees from New Zealand and packets of garden seeds spread out on the kitchen table; the fruition of cozy winter evenings spent listening to the logs crackle in the wood stove while pouring over catalogs and websites.
On the coldest, dreariest, waning days of winter I loved looking out the window at the gardens under their humps of snow, while imagining all the perennials lurking below, ready to spring into action at first thaw.
Weirdly enough, it’s rhubarb I miss most. That first harbinger of spring in the vegetable garden; its grooved leaves unfurling in shades of yellow, pink, green and red from the snow crusted earth never failed to fill me with hope and joy. This despite the fact that neither Darcy nor I liked rhubarb. I just really liked watching it grow.
I am grateful for my beds at the community garden and for the ability to have pots on our balcony, but without perennials to look forward to the experience feels hollow. I know I sound whiny and I really don’t mean to. I am just fascinated by how it was the perennials that got me through the winter; the perennials that made me feel like I was part of something bigger, like I had an actual hand in the cycle of life.
I think that’s what is at the root of gardening. Sure, the vegetables we raise are sustaining and necessary for our body, but I believe our connection to the earth is necessary for our soul. There is, after all, only one letter’s difference between soil and soul.
If I have learned anything over the last two years it’s that thinking too much about the past is not helpful. If I drive too far down memory lane it gets harder and harder to turn back; it’s like strong arming a car into a U-turn without power steering.
“Don’t look back…you’re not going that way.”
So I turn around, bump my way through a few ruts, grind my way through a few gears (Not only is my memory car lacking power steering, apparently it is also a standard. It’s very old.) and try to get back on track.
I do have a secret simmering on our balcony. Last year-encouraged by a mild winter the year before-I put a few perennials in the pots on our balcony. Supposedly perennials will survive the winter in pots if they are hardy to at least one zone less than the one you are in. We are in Zone 3. Sort of. I left a Zone 2 viburnum shrub, a Zone 2 clematis and (my ace in the hole) a clump of Zone 1 sweet grass in their pots and circled each of them with some crocus bulbs. We’ll see. The deep freezes and Chinooks do not bode well for the poor things, but it has given me something to look forward to, which was the whole purpose.
If none of them survive, maybe I’ll plant up a pot of dandelions instead. They may be weeds, but as many know, they are also the most medicinally beneficial herb on the planet. And what’s more, they can be counted on to survive; even on a fourth floor balcony. I’m kind of disappointed I didn’t think of it sooner.
I leave you with a quote by Suzanne Collins that sums up both the dandelion and the underlying power of perennial hope.
What I need is the dandelion in the spring
The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction
The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses
That it can be good again