Winter dismantles slowly this year, while spring creeps in around the edges of our mid-March cold, mantling the nooks and crannies with bits of new green, Lenten bursts of blooming, a chorus of frogs.
I've been trying to notice spring, sick as I am of winter, and I've had to look hard and mostly low for it: sturdy tulip flesh strong enough to poke through stiff mulch, my first-ever crop of daffodils suddenly poking slender green fingers out of the cold dirt, sedum shining a brighter green among the dead leaves left over from fall, where the snow shovel leans against the house, still ready.
Our Lenten rose is brazenly forging ahead and ignoring the dire predictions for snow, blooming passionately at odd with its austere namesake. I say "our," but we inherited it with the house. It's in an awkward spot out back, but does so well there I've let it be.
My daffodils, too, seem braver than I'd like. Earlier this week they arose from the bare ground and today several are pregnant with yellow blooms. A pioneering peony has also peeked through the soil, rid and spiky, a surprising survivor. The three peonies I ordered last fall, three heirloom varieties, scented and expensive, arrived in late October. They don't arrive as bulbs, exactly, but more like roots, looking like sickly potatoes gone all to eyes and stalks. The instructions were emphatic--don't plant them too deep, and plant them early enough so they "settle in" before the first frost. I planted them late, in early November, and hoped for another mild winter to make up for my laziness. Bitter cold came for a week mid-November instead, and the peonies (scented! expensive!) had barely three weeks to adjust to the garden before the freeze. I covered them with evergreen boughs and hoped for the best. Now it seems at least one is making an attempt at life.
Spring is a worrying time for gardeners after a bitter and snowy winter like this one has been, a bit of a crap shoot, and as soon as the sun's angle is high enough to provide some thin warmth we are out almost daily in the yard checking for signs of life and death. Did the azaleas survive? Are their brown leaves a sign of winter dormancy or that they succumbed to the bitter cold? The tiny shrubs I planted last fall are bare sticks, waiting out the last gasp of winter arriving this weekend, I hope, and not casualties. But never mind--I've ordered eight more seedlings to provide either replacements or an abundance for years ahead. If it's ever warm enough to plant them!
The winter storm warning that came the weekend before St. Patrick's Day didn't sound too bad. Just in case, though, I spent the weekend filling bird feeders and wondering how to protect the daffodils, surely too slender to survive the expected 2 - 4" of snow and sleet. The snow moved in earlier than expected Sunday night, not starting as rain, and bringing us far more than expected: at least 10 inches at our house before the storm moved out to sea. Temperatures stayed below freezing, and St. Patrick, had he returned, would have found no spring green for the memorial to his death but only swaths of snow and ice under slate-gray skies. I'd done nothing to protect my daffodils, not really believing we'd get much snow so late in March and wouldn't it melt quickly in any case? The dog and I spent the day staring, dismayed, at the white, unbroken expanse of unshoveled driveway and unplowed street, trying to recall the exactly one hour so far this year we'd been able to sit outside in the sunshine and feel actually warm.
The week between the storm and now, although containing the spring equinox, was almost entirely bleak and cold, and Tessa and I, with our sensitive joints, grow ever more stiff and impatient for warmth. An afternoon or two of temperatures in the 60s and sunshine is not respite enough--I still go to sleep under layers of down and wake up reaching for my sweatshirt. Cold has settled in again for the predictable, forecastable future, and there are rumblings about more snow on Tuesday. My daffodils are still green and grown taller despite the snow but have not bloomed, and those yet-unseen golden emblems of spring seem impossibly remote.
I would help winter's dismantling if I could. Instead, I must put my faith in the annual instincts of the plants and birds, consoling myself by documenting spring's mantling, clothing myself in the patience of the earth and the hope of the season and knowing that, in time, everything will rise again.