For a long time now, I’ve known when to start cutting my yard each year. The lawn usually gets shaggy around St. Patrick’s Day, a bright green holiday that neatly coincides with the greening of turf beyond my window. It’s a small rule of thumb that tells me the world still makes sense, and I embrace it as eagerly as the homespun certitudes I come across each winter in the farmers’ almanacs.
But last week, although we had yet to pass the midpoint of February, I saw that the yard already needs a trim. The grass is ahead of schedule, but much of the new growth comes from weeds. Wet weather and mild temperatures have been a bonanza for the clover, dollar weed and wild violets sprouting near my doorstep. Poets like to praise daisies and roses as tribunes of spring, but in the botanical world as in the human one, it’s the rough characters who usually serve as scouts for the more refined sorts who show up later. So here, at the far frontier of spring, we have yet to see the full blooming of the treasures from the neighborhood plant nursery. Instead, like squatters hoping to stake a claim by showing up early and putting down roots, are the hearty horticultural pioneers who thrive on persistence — crab grass, mock strawberry and thistle.
Although, as a child of the South, I’m accustomed to short winters, I’m not quite ready to welcome spring when Valentine’s Day cards still rest on the shelves at the local drugstore. I like the pause afforded by the cold, gray days between Christmas and March. In the interval between yuletide obligations and spring gardening chores, I sometimes get my best mental work done — catching up on unanswered mail, clearing the desk in our backroom study.
But the arrival of April weather in February fast-forwards me through the calendar, bringing an odd sense of jet-lag. I feel strangely dislocated on days when heavy quilts warm my mornings and Bermuda shorts color my afternoons — so much so that I recently told my neighbor good morning, although it was five o’clock in the evening.
We depend upon the orderly march of seasons to sharpen our sense of chronology. If global climate change does, in fact, confuse the ancient patterns of winter and spring, summer and fall, then we’ll lose a primal compass that guides our essential grasp of narrative.
Visiting a nursing home last December, I noticed that the bulletin board alerted the residents not only about the day of the week, but the month of the year and its location within winter. It was a small daily exercise meant to keep indoor-bound residents grounded within the seasons.
Glancing at the bulletin board and its little ink snow man, I thought wistfully of the board books I once read to my children — little tutorials that alternated between snow drifts and vivid pansies, beach pails and jack-o’-lanterns, each page a lesson in the seasons of the year. May we always have those signposts, even when spring arrives in the second month of the calendar.