(Originally published in the Philadelphia Inquirer 2/29/08.)
It is a few more weeks until the vernal equinox, when daylight hours and nighttime become approximately the same length of time. And although it seems we haven’t had a real winter here in Philadelphia yet (and I say yet because we could and most likely will still get walloped), I, for one, am already anticipating spring’s arrival. Just this past week, the tender green tips of daffodils planted outside my back door poked brave shoots out through the still frigid ground. Just the sight of those intrepid sprouts made something stir in me. Some hankering – some yearning that will be fulfilled as soon as I have some sun on my back and some dirt on my hands. I long to be in the garden.
There are certain things I do like about winter. I love being by a blazing fire on a blustery, blizzardy Sunday with all the Sunday papers and some books and magazines and hot chocolate lined up at the ready. I love it for about a day or two. And therein lies the problem. Winter is simply too long. Or maybe it needs to be long, so that we do anticipate spring with the proper reverence. Maybe the whole deal with winter is that it is hard, like much of life, and then when the easy, breezy days of spring and summer come, we feel rewarded somehow, like we’ve earned something.
In Philadelphia we do enjoy a true spring. I have lived for long periods of time in Colorado, southern California, and Chicago, and except for Colorado, I never really experienced the luxurious bounty of spring days that giddily present themselves for weeks at a time. At the beaches in southern California, spring and early summer are usually cool and gray and fogged in. You get nice blooms in the garden there year-round, so spring doesn’t engender the same mania. Chicago does have spring, but it lasts about a week – you go from six months of bone-numbing, soul-searing winter to trees and lilacs blooming prettily for a week; straight to heat, humidity, cicadas, and cracking thunderstorms.
In order to stave off my itch to get outside and into the garden I can satisfy myself with gardening catalogs, and with online gardening sites. I can also peruse my collection of gardening books, which is almost as satisfying as browsing through cookbooks, and a lot less work than the real thing. Maybe this will be the year I will succeed with keeping alive a night blooming cereus, selenicereus grandiflorus, that fragrant queen of the night.
It is hard to make yourself wait until it is safe to get out in the garden. I start haunting the plant nurseries way too soon, drifting hopefully through the aisles with other wan winter souls, wanting to disregard the advice to not plant until Mother’s Day. I go ahead and plant some containers – instant gratification – and I can lug those indoors if need be. A gardenia plant always cheers, and an inhalation of its fragrant blossom can transport you immediately to other more tropical, sensuous worlds.
By springtime, we have either gotten a good running start on the resolutions we made for the New Year, or we have discarded them. No matter, spring is a time for renewal, more so, really, than the New Year, which takes place in the dead of winter. New Year’s resolutions often involve giving up pleasurable things; spring usually invites us open up to pleasure and joy and a little craziness. Emily Dickinson said, “A little madness in the Spring/Is wholesome even for the King.”
So if your daydreams are turning toward fields of bright yellow daffodils, city streets lined with graceful canopies of pink and white blossoms, longer days, and a little madness, take heart. And remember, the very best thing about spring is that summer is right around the corner.