I don’t like winter, which is a big part of why I moved from Erie, Pennsylvania to the sunny south. But for the longest time late winter/early spring was actually my least favorite time of year. November and December are a relief after the intensity of the spring-summer-fall growing season, and they’re full of familial warmth. January is only tolerable because it’s a slow coast down from the holidays, and the snow and chill haven’t yet lost their charm. And then there’s February and March.
February and March are cold grey letdowns, and they have a lot of bad personal associations for me. My marriage lived its last through February and March of 2012; I wrecked my truck on March 1st of 2013. The weather, especially up north, is flat and monochromatic and endless. When I think of February, I think of purgatory: a vast empty place in which nothing can grow or change and we’re all doomed to marinate in the mistakes of the last year for the rest of eternity.
I realized the other day that I’m looking at February and March all wrong. All I can see is what’s in front of me, and none of it is good enough. The budding plants are too small to be impressive, the trays of seedlings are just work waiting to be done, the trees don’t have even a hint of leaves, the ground is too wet and the sun should be twenty degrees warmer. There aren’t enough birds around to entertain me and the spiders and snakes and other garden critters are still sleeping. The preventative labor of mulching the beds with leaves and wood chips strikes me as utterly dull (even though it’ll save a lot of work in the long run). I’m a cranky, dissatisfied bear, finding fault with everything outside of my cave.
But I lay down in the yard during a recent warm spell and put my ear to the ground and thought about how the plants are feeling right now. They’re not sulking and complaining about what they want or what they don’t have. They’re vibrating with potential. The dill and cilantro we seeded last week are sucking up moisture, putting out microscopic rootlets and gathering their strength. The centauria and nigella are lying in wait, feeling out their new territory and gauging their room to grow.
Just beneath the soil, everyone is making plans. The asparagus crowns are stretching and digging in and the tulips are screwing themselves to the sticking point. Four kinds of lettuce seeds are assembling their sugars and starches, stacking molecules and nutrients in endless chains towards the sun. Provisions are being arranged, tasks are being designated, metaphorical tools are being cleaned while genetic blueprints are consulted.
And they’re singing as they do it. Oh, they’re single-minded with intent and their work is deadly serious, but there’s music underneath our feet all the same. Rhythm and tone, cadence and pattern, notes we’ll never be able to hear and words in a hundred thousand chemical languages we’ll never decrypt. It’s beautiful all the same.
I enthused, last year, over the riot of spring in April and May, the explosive beauty of it. And I do absolutely love that season’s unrestrained madness. Full bore spring is a bacchnalian frenzy, a rock opera starring dueling keytars: who can fail to be moved by that? But I’m gaining a new appreciation for this time of year, for the flavor of anticipation as we weather each storm we hope will be the last.
Every day I can spend singing with the world-that-will-be is another day closer to, I think, to long hot stretches full of bugs and weeds, when the world stops whispering and starts shouting for joy. When I’ll think wistfully about these quiet times and get ready to press my head, again, to the soil, and listen for what’s in store.