text and photography by KEN DRUSE
A dark ceiling looms over the landscape as winter comes to a close. Yesterday’s fresh white cover has melted into tattered patches of gray. The lingering cold calls for gloves and hats and collars turned up against the chill. But on one day each year, in March or early April, there’s an unexpected shift. A warm breeze washes over my cheek, and soon my runny nose detects familiar scents: mushy leaves, thawing earth, and the spongy beds of sleeping beetles. It’s nature’s birthday.
This day of change feels a little sad, full of emptiness and longing. I’m so used to gray I might miss its familiarity. But as I trudge down the street, something nudges me out of my funk—a flying bird reflected in a puddle lifts my gaze skyward, where I imagine a green haze of emerging leaves, even though the trees and sky are black and white.
This chartreuse hallucination is a premonition. My yearnings, as usual, are running well ahead of the calendar. By the time the trees really begin to leaf out, weeks later, I’ll be in the thick of the gardening season. But for me, the acid green of new growth on nearly every plant is the true color of spring, not the pink azaleas or bright red tulips.
People who fail to see the signposts of seasonal change may get their kicks from the rush of the “real world”—from computers, elevators, crowded office towers, and gray flannel suits darker than a February sky. But if there is contentment to be found at that pace, I don’t get it. I dip a toe into that world, but it isn’t really home. We gardeners have one foot firmly planted in a different place, one governed by a different, more powerful rhythm.
If you’re not certain whether that rhythm has a place in your own garden, watch what happens to a patch of bare earth at this time of year. In a week or two, a film of green appears on the brown soil. Some seeds were waiting in the soil for moisture, warmth, and light to germinate; others floated in or were carried by the birds. In a short time, a catalog of local weeds appears. By filling every hospitable void, nature renews our faith; and though it may be hard to remember this affirmation of new life every time we weed, gardeners have no trouble recognizing that something big is at work here.
The knowledge gleaned from our gardens makes us ideal advocates for nature. We can be rebels, fighting for clean air, open land, and pure water—as we must be. I used to say that there were no rules in gardening, that it’s fine to just go out and have fun, but I’ve amended that notion. I want to leave this place better off, healthier, than I found it. That’s an effort I’m happy to make for the gift of planting and inscribing my mark on the land. H