Poking around in the garden this afternoon, it struck me as it does every year: spring reaches a point where it barrels ahead faster than I can pay attention. I visit my garden daily and make the rounds to see what’s new. It moves at a slow pace in March, but after some rain, a spell of warm weather and more rain, it seems that the growth and change just start erupting.
The little clump of trilliums have opened in the shade garden. Two kinds of anemones are blooming, the currant bushes have leafed out. I can walk out for fresh chives and parsley to add to recipes. A coworker gave me a huge bag of rhubarb, which I have stewed into sauce. I’ll have some with my morning yogurt and think of my grandparents who enjoyed it as a spring tonic. It’s one of the year’s first fresh foods after winter. Fresh nearly-local asparagus is available at the produce stands. My first sowing of lettuce is ready to harvest as baby greens. Henry can be found pouncing on bugs in the grass.
The bees are taking sugar water from their feeder, and are also bringing pollen back to the hive. There’s a spot on the ground where the sugar water drips, and often I see mourning cloak butterflies there along with wasps. The air is filled with bird sound–juncos trilling in tree tops, white-crowned sparrows, evening grosbeaks, tree swallows. A pair of rufous hummingbirds has set up shop nearby, and they keep up a vigorous conversation of chirps. I wonder if they’re nesting? I wonder where the Steller’s jays are nesting?
This is my fieldwork now. April is almost as frustrating as November for trail technicians. Winter recreation season has ended, we’ve taken down all the signs, and are almost ready to hang up the snowshoes. The snow melts and rivers are high with murky water. There are reports to compile, grant applications for funding to write, summer projects to plan and coordinate. It seems too early to be thinking about work parties in August–we don’t know what damage the melting snow will reveal. I’m still filing crosscut saws and overhauling hand tools. And recovering from a nasty cold.
So I am especially fond of my little native plant gardens right now. They remind me of the woods, and of specific places. It’s considered unethical to to dig up wild plants. But I confess I’ve done it. These wild onions and pussytoes were retrieved while doing fall drainage along a trail on Table Mountain. The bulbs and roots were dry, just lying there in the dirt. I brought them home, and they have thrived. I have a deer fern that was dug up during the reconstruction of the Tired Creek trail. It came home in a plastic bag–I keep a few in my pack in the fall, because that’s the best time to transplant. Just in case. Other plants have been dug up from Gramma’s place in western Washington (we share a love of native plants), and purchased at a native plant nursery. So I don’t have wild patches of forest floor or shrub steppe, only semi-feral conglomerations.
From a purely practical point of view, there are few reasons to grow plants that don’t produce food for human or animal bodies. Having committed fully to my artistic nature, I gave up on being purely practical long ago. For me, gardening can have an element of the irrational–I keep coming back to the memory of an old Elvis Costello song about useless beauty. Is it useless? A fascination with living things, the cycle of the seasons, the predictable and the surprising, the reminder that the lilies of the field neither toil nor spin, the hands in the dirt and feet on the ground, the green that arises from death and decay, the feeding of the soul that comes from participating in life. The past and the future dwell in my garden, as a thread of continuity. But the joy is in this moment, as I step out onto the front porch to listen for frogs singing in the rainy evening and hope for a whiff of spring to penetrate my stuffy nose.