A. V. Walters

Musings on Spring

It’s Saint Patrick’s Day and, with this week’s heavy rains, our corduroy hills have taken on that Irish, emerald green.  I call them corduroy because the ranchers cut the hay and leave it in rows on the hillside. The hills across from us are so steep that a tractor can only go strait up and down–any turn on the steep part of the slope and they’ll tumble. On that steep terrain they cut, but don’t bother to bail or collect the hay. So the cut hay lays on the hillside in stripes–stripes that echo, season after season, on the landscape. The week’s rains have washed the cows and today they stand out starkly–black and white, against the green. With the intense green and the equinox next week, we can’t help but think of spring.

In my Michigan hometown, up on Lake Superior, they’re thinking of spring, too. My mother, even in her mid-seventies, is a rabid gardener. As soon as the snow retreats she hustles to rake up the garden in preparation for spring planting. It’s a big job, one she tackles in stages that are measured by the progress of the snow’s melt. She races against time, knowing that when late May fades into June, it’ll be blackfly season–and she’ll want to be indoors for that. It’s been a mild winter in the North, too mild. This week they’re having a false spring. It was eighty degrees in the Harbor today–a record breaker by all accounts. Most of the snow is gone, or nearly so. I can picture my brother-in-law standing in the parking lot of their general store, broom in hand (his excuse for being outside) face tipped to the sun. In fact I’ll bet all the inhabitants of the Harbor were out today, drinking in the summer-like weather.

It’s not necessarily a good thing and they all know it. In separate calls to my family today, three of them mentioned the obvious danger of too early a spring. The trees can be fooled, lulled into an early bloom. Flowers have the same risk. When that happens, winter reaches her icy fingers back to what March should be and the bloom will fail, taking next summer’s fruit with it. And nothing is quite as winter-numbing as the sight of a daffodil in it’s crystal sheath, after a freezing rain. Still, standing outside in shirtsleeve weather has its own hooks, after months of cold and grey.

Today in Two Rock the rains gave way to blustery winds. The clouds have been chased away and the sun shines on new hills. The grass is growing faster than the sheep and cows can eat. Walking out to the road, to get the mail, I spooked a huge flock of black birds–invisible in the tall grass until the moment they launched, en masse, into the sky. I was startled and laughed out loud at the surprise of it.

During the worst of the rains I was scheduled to collect signatures for California’s referendum to require foods with genetically modified ingredients to be labeled as such. We were positioned at the door to Whole Foods. (Yes, I know–shooting fish in a barrel.) Still, it was interesting. The signatures flowed easily between cloudbursts but when the rains really came down, the shoppers hunched their backs, scrunched up their faces, avoided eye contact and ran for their cars. I can’t blame them, it was cold and wet. Some people stopped to say they’d already signed, and to thank us for being there. One well-dressed man shook my hand and told me he hoped it wasn’t too late already. I couldn’t help but agree.

It’s an early spring here, too. To a lesser extent we have a similar problem as my family back home. We’re not clear of the danger of frost, not until May. But the equinox is a milestone. I can start hardy seedlings indoors next week. Then, in the weeks after that I can start some of the more delicate vegetables. I struggle with the temptation to rush the process. I’m no different than the folks back home, who sweep parking lots in the sun, where only a week or so ago there was snow. We all yearn for spring, for planting and the promise of summer’s warmth. And that’s what’s up in Two Rock.