Field Notes: A Cold Spring

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What a whirlwind of a spring! In the beginning it was warm and beckoning, and it seemed as if every living thing was responding exuberantly, in denial of the possible brutality that springtime can sometimes offer. After a Friday with a high of eighty, when the magnolias were resplendently unfurling their dusky pink blossoms, the sabotage relentlessly began, first with dipping temperatures, then with a sprinkle of cold early morning snow. Then came the flagrant insult of six inches of deep wet snow, more than we had gotten all winter long combined. It melted off quickly enough, but the damage to early blossoms was done.

Then there was the cold—temperatures down to 17 degrees! Two nights in a row! After all that brutality, the cold continued to linger, up until even today. Last night hovered around freezing. I’m still covering my seedlings every night. Last year I complained that we never get a long spring, but be careful what you wish for, as they say. This cold spring is hanging around like a rude guest, and has everything in its thrall. Growth has been held in limbo, the leaves on all the trees just hovering before bud break. Fat cottonwood catkins tightly shut, red and green maple buds tentatively stretching, the light chartreuse of the willow leaves just pushing out.

In the face of this, it’s amazing how much survives. Gladly, even! The invasive garlic mustard, of course, not one to cower in the face of freezing temperatures. I have seen this new green growth freeze and thaw several times, and they seem happy as clams, lining the sides of the road, the edges of the forest and swamps, ready to handle anything the weather dishes it. The spicebushes are putting out their tiny pom pom flowers out, the skunk cabbage has been flourishing since February, and ramps, when you find them, elusively flutter their lovely fluid leaves. Bittercress, purple dead nettle, and dandelions proliferate. The wild places understand how spring works, even if we can’t grasp it.

In the yard, the grape hyacinths dot the lawn, staying longer than I have ever seen them in bloom, preserved by the cold. The snow peas I sowed on March 12 are still two or three inches high, weathering it all without ever being covered at night. The rhubarb is strong and crenellated on its sunny hill, so sturdy as it pushes up through the dirt. The strawberries right next door are leafing out, and there are already flowers! All of the seedlings seem to be thriving despite the cold, second leaves showing already on the radishes and spinach. It’s always amazing to see how well living things can do in the face of adversity, never worrying about the past, always present for the moment.

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