As you may know, my sister Eleanor was a published poet. Every year, about this time, one of her poems comes vividly to mind. It’s one of those frustratingly “Untitled” poems, but the first lines are these:
Can you stand another Spring?
Rhubarb nubbing pale fuschia
out of worm-moist earth
unwrapping yellowy leaves
with the sound of
an old accordion unpleating.
Last week, I looked out the breakfast room window and there it was: Rhubarb nubbing pale fuschia out of worm-moist earth! In our household, this annual “nubbing” of the rhubarb in our kitchen garden ranks right up there with the return of the turkey vultures as a most welcome sign of Spring. Taste buds perk up in anticipation of the first slice of warm rhubarb pie topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
What are the harbingers of Spring for all of you bloggers from around the world?
Here, in Wisconsin, our four seasons have very distinct personalities. First of all, we do definitely have four seasons — Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. Depending on how you are bringing up this blog, you may see the cover of my book with its photograph of the spectacular fall color in our University Arboretum. As we near the end of one season, we look for the first signs of transition into what is next. But it’s the first hints of Spring that carry the most emotional currency for many of us.
The turkey vultures and the rhubarb are very early signs, and we greet and celebrate their appearances. Next will arrive the robins and hummingbirds, and the tulips, daffodils, lilacs and crabapples will come into bloom. We begin to put winter coats and woolen turtleneck sweaters back up in the attic for storage, and snow boots are put away in the basement cupboard. At the same time, we enjoy the gradual lengthening of daylight hours as we switch from standard to daylight saving time. We open up the sunroom, which has been closed off and unheated all winter and is now flooded with warmth and bright sun. Off goes the extra blanket on the bed, and the debate begins; “Do you think we can open the bedroom window a bit tonight to get some fresh air?” Outside, we rake off the leaves that fell in the Fall, and that have provided the garden with a layer of protection from the winter’s cold and snow. We inspect the plantings for winter damage and worry about those that seem to have extensive winter “burn.”
I grew up here in this state and all my life I have lived with the four seasons. I would miss the changing seasons if I were to move south. Many people, especially those who are retired, go away to Florida or Arizona for part or all of the winter. Some people are drawn to warmer climes in middle-age, enticed by the promise of never having to chip ice or shovel snow. One friend moved with her family to Phoenix many years ago — thinking the move would be temporary and would be followed by a return back to living in Wisconsin. She ultimately changed her mind and is staying on in Arizona. She said to me one time, “You don’t appreciate how hard it is to deal with winter until you’ve been able to live without it.” And I’m sure that is absolutely true. And yet . . .
I look back on our winters over the years with a sort of perverted pleasure. In their own way, the snow storms we have are beautiful to behold. And a sense of being freed from the rest of the world and all its responsibilities comes with not being able to go anywhere, with spending a day at home waiting until the plows can get through. These are what we call “snow days;” the weather channel sends out a “snow advisory,” schools are closed, and people are advised to stay home. Then comes the crisp sunny day after a snowstorm, with its unbelievably blue, blue sky against the white, white landscape — the outside world is just plain gorgeous. And we know that the plows will come, and we know that the day at home is over, and we know that it’s time to go back to school and work. But, in its own way, the snow day has been an unexpected respite, a chance to rest and get re-energized for the return to the everyday routines and tasks of life.
This year we are coming out of a particularly harsh winter. Lots of snow and subzero temperatures. The coldest day this year was January 6 — 18 degrees below zero (F). Hence, we are reveling with more than usual enthusiasm in these first signs of Spring, knowing we will soon be enjoying lovely warm days and glorious color in the garden.
But, hold on. We are understandably excited to see the rhubarb coming up in the “worm-moist earth” outside the breakfast window. But we groan out loud as we read the weather forecast for tomorrow in this morning’s newspaper — high of 42 degrees, partly sunny and chance of snow (!).