The month is roaring in like a lion. After last year's drought conditions in the Upper Midwest, farmers certainly appreciate the largesse of white stuff. For the gardeners eager to get out there and dig in the mud, spring may seem farther away than ever.
One of my favorite "spring" stories comes from my husband's days as a grad student at the University of Chicago. His roommate already had a master's degree in chemistry. He wound up at Chicago on a full scholarship intended to encourage students from non-traditional fields to pursue a theological degree. With uncommon gusto, the guy threw himself into reading the Great Books and wisdom of the ages.
Chicago, now as then, was notorious for its howling wind chills and monumental lake-effect snows. By March, cabin fever was rampant on the university campus. When finally the weather reporters announced a genuine thaw -- or at least when temperatures stayed above freezing for a week running -- the roommate announced that it was time to celebrate.
The guy threw open the window of their dorm room and started to play a recording of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, full-blast. He bought a liter of Portuguese wine, stripped to his birthday suit and climbed out on the sunny window ledge to consume it. The earth was thawing. Spring was coming.
Gardeners have their own way of celebrating the spring solstice. Years ago we moved to Long Island for the first time. I couldn't believe my good fortune. Thanks to the Gulf Stream, late March and early April were delightfully warm compared to anything I had experienced in early years in mid-Michigan or during my Wisconsin childhood. By mid-April I had transferred the seedlings in my indoor flats to the garden. Then I promptly sat back and watched them rot in the ground.
Rain and ground fog took their toll. Late May I purchased a second round of seedlings from the local nursery and started over. I had discovered the hard way: no point in rushing the season.
Gardening is not an occupation for the faint of heart. It rarely results in instant gratification. What we want and what we need as gardeners are not always the same. We yearn for spring, all the while knowing that without vigorous snowfalls, our perennials will suffer. Too warm and early a thaw can decimate whole crops. There is a rhythm to life in the garden that needs to prevail, regardless of how depressing our personal case of cabin fever might be.
O fortuna, Carmina Burana's beloved "Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi" begins, velut luna, statu variabilis. Like the moon, o fortune, you are ever changeable. The anonymous 13th century Latin poet who wrote those lines certainly knew what he was saying. Some 800 years later, that particular song topped the list of most-played classical pieces in Great Britain over the past 75 years. After all, those "Brits" are famous as a Nation of Gardeners.
Long-time Bay View resident, author and columnist Mary Agria is an avid community gardener during her summers in Northern Michigan. On the bestseller lists of area bookstores in 2006, her novel "Time in a Garden," full of gardening wit and wisdom, explores the links between gardening and the ability to cope with love and loss in the changing seasons of our lives. "Time in a Garden" is available at area bookstores and online at www.northforknaturals.com/MaryAgria.htm. Send questions and/or comments to Mary Agria at firstname.lastname@example.org.