Friday, February 24, 2012

First Spring

Spring in the northwest defies the simple "April showers bring May flowers" logic I grew up with back east. Since arriving here four years ago, I've been presented with several theories about how it works: Spring comes late some years, Spring takes it's own sweet time reaching fullness, there is no Spring between Rain and Summer. According to my yard and the plants and critters of the maritime northwest, however, the truth is that there are many Springs.

A foot of snow and ice may have distracted us, but First Spring began not so long after the Winter Solstice, as the earth revolves toward longer days, and some things begin to awaken. But if you looked closely at those branches downed by the storm, you could see swelling alder buds, catkins, and other signs of growth. By mid-February, even in my procrastinating yard (which seems to do everything a week or so after the rest of Olympia), shoots are emerging from the ground, blueberry buds are swelling, and the grass is growing again. Even garlic in the pantry is heeding the call, going soft and sending out roots and shoots.

It will take months for this precursory promise to become full flower, but it's enough to keep me going. More than that, to get me going. Emergence begets urgency. Dormancy is slipping away, so it's time to transplant those things I intend to move, plant new fruit I want to establish, and cut those scions if I am wont to graft. Seeds need sorting, new beds must be dug, bushes and trees cry out for pruning so they can grow in the right direction, and so on. Garden gear stashed or abandoned in the Fall has to be checked and fixed (or culled), and Winter's windfall is not totally sorted, stacked, and otherwise re-deployed. The list grows longer as time flows faster.

First Spring is the farmer's breakfast, imbibed early while the rest of the world sleeps, warming the belly and fueling the body for work that must be done. While the rest of the world awaits the more obvious Spring, replete with flowers and sunshine, here at the greenstead those first shoots and sprouts say it's time to wake up from that long Winter's nap. Subtle snowdrop blooms and blushing budswells reinvigorate me with beauty--latency before blatancy--and serve as quiet reminders before fully unfurled foliage says it's too late to be ahead of the game.

Some people are already busy starting seeds under lights and on heating pads. Maybe I am too cheap to buy the gear or the watts (in more pious moments, I'd say I'm loathe to consume too much), and it definitely could be that I procrastinate (or, sayeth the self-righteous me: not hubristic enough to force nature to my timetable). In the end, I know that come April I can support local growers by buying their starts at the Farmers Market: I get a good healthy selection without having had to buy seeds months ago, and they get some income before crops are ready.

Another thing that has been on people's minds over the past few months has been planning. I've never been that disciplined, and since the garden skeleton (trees and bushes, the woody parts that don't move so readily) is articulated already, I don't do that much planning. While others studied and fretted, I ate and carved. At some point soon, I'll think about how I want to flesh out the gardens as I plant spinach and radishes, but for the most part the foodscape is formed by habit and whim. Shoots of garlic, daffodils, and tulips, as well as the hoop house full of embiggening lettuce and spinach seem to suggest that I did some planning last Fall, but I don't recall. The seasons, and in particular this year's version of how they will play out, have their own plan, and I am mostly just along for the ride.

Which brings me back to where I started: First Spring. Spring begets Summer begets Fall is way too simplistic, and not so helpful. The first year I was here, I saw signs of Spring and immediately started planting. The result? I had some beans that sprouted and remained in suspended animation as tiny seedlings for a few months, while the rest just rotted in the ground. Things like that need to wait til Warm Soil Spring, which is after Nettle Spring and Burgeoning Spring. OK, I am just making up those names on the fly, but the point is that the seasons hold more complexity than how our calendar is drawn and quartered. Look at the "moons" identified by farmers, or those named in Lushootseed and the other native languages of our region, and you'll see that for most of our history, humans had a more refined appreciation of what happened to their world as it swung round the sun.

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