The strawberry farmers of my childhood sometimes declared that winter was over, only to face a late freeze that shattered their crop. That memory makes me superstitious about putting away winter before it’s ready to go, though the season seems on its deathbed this month.
Spring doesn’t officially arrive until March 20. But in Louisiana, the calendar, like the people, rarely puts much stock in formality. Look outside, and the landscape already seems less like New Year’s, more like Easter.
Our mayhaw bush is newly flocked with white flowers, as brilliant as a bride each morning when I greet it on the way to collect the newspaper. Deep purple blossoms hang from the Japanese plum, like steeple bells forged by a Carnival krewe. The fire ants have emerged from whatever secret place they inhabit in the depth of December, building fresh mounds beneath the sycamore. I glance at them over coffee these days, silently plotting their oblivion. Soon, I’ll dust the mounds with the sulfurous poison I keep in the shed, a white powder that anoints the air with the aroma of rotten eggs. Spring doesn’t always smell as nice as the poets proclaim, but we welcome it anyway, embracing its promise that rebirth, not decay, is the earth’s prevailing theme.
The new season brings a hundred other things to do. My wife often sighs when she steps outside, chastened by weeds so tall in the flower beds that we half-expect them to knock on the door and invite themselves in. The herb garden needs replanting, the bird feeders could use a scrub, and the strengthening March winds have brought a steady rain of twigs and branches that make a lively landmine across the lawn. We’ll gather them to make way for the mower, its rumble answering the chorus of combustion engines sounding now throughout the neighborhood. Across the lunar quiet of winter, spring gradually raises its voice — much of the volume from Briggs & Stratton, along with a multitude of birds. The lovely liquid song of the cardinals was so loud last Saturday that I could hardly hear the television, which was maybe some cosmic way to remind me that I shouldn’t be watching so much TV, anyway.
I was glad, though, to catch “At Eternity’s Gate” on a streaming service, seeing Willem Dafoe’s portrayal of Vincent Van Gogh. In the movie, the tortured painter heads to the south of France seeking the right light for his pictures, arriving for the mistral, the steady winter wind that assaults the landscape with gloom. But in time, the weeks bring that golden glow Van Gogh captured so magically in his pictures.
What he was seeing was spring, which shows up on its own schedule, gracing those who are willing to wait. The days ahead are Van Gogh days — masterpieces in the making, rewarding us for waiting as winter walked to its grave.