May tidings

Warmth is a short season here in Vermont. When mud wanes in late April and the earth tilts us back toward light, it’s as if a lid lifts and all of us trapped butterflies flutter from our jars. Where just a month ago I watched the snowplow push gray mush on the curb, a row of yellow marigolds bounce in the sun.

It’s like everyone’s suddenly lost her keys. We kneel, dig, excavate, pray. Hallelujah! Beneath these dead leaves and shriveled weeds, there’s life!

I started seedlings in early March, desperately needing of see something grow. To obsess over something that wasn't bad news or WebMD. To water and tend to and nurture soul.

I filled egg cartons with dirt. Sowed spinach, kale, tomatoes, the usual. Pressed crescent mooned calendula seeds with my pinky and sprinkled way too many snapdragons.

Then I waited. Watched. Willed those little lives up like Totoro. Checked the window sill more frequently than I checked my phone.

I noticed my vision changed. A different kind of seeing occurred. Not the flat, narrowed stare before the glare of screen, but a soft peering that ambled freely across divots of dirt.

The astro arugula were the first to poke their heads. I knelt beside them and could almost detect the advancement of their pale little leafs. Swiss chard and Napa cabbage were next to crown, then calendula.

Jasper and I went to California for a wedding, and despite a friend’s visits to water, we returned to dried dirt cakes and shriveled sprouts. I sobbed. Watered. Within a couple days the seedlings perked up and the tomatoes thrived. Teeny celery seeds, which hadn’t shown any signs of life for weeks, crawled out of the soil and I quite literally jumped with joy.

Now, after weeks of fussing, moving (again), wheeling them outside for increasing increments, all but the most cold-averse have taken root in a community garden. I have no idea what I’m doing, but as a novice gardener I quickly realized I don’t have to know. The plants know. It’s not my job to grow them, but to listen, watch, and respond. Provide space, respect their needs, do my best to care. There will be storms, vine borers, aphids. Deer, slugs, and squirrels. Buds, blossoms, fruits. And in a few short months, snow and ice will once again cover them all.

In the face of so much to mourn and fear, the plants are teaching me to endure. To grow and blossom, even when climate change causes a heat wave the first week of May. To respect the speed of life. To trust what was here before, what is, what will be. Beyond our scope, underfoot, taking root. To know one’s place.

I send these May tidings with the hope that you’re well, getting good sleep, and sniffing all the flowers along your path. I think of you in my garden as I dig up grass and hundreds of stones. As I listen to preschoolers play games and robins sing songs. As a breeze delivers a bouquet of lilacs, so sweet and fleeting.

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