What is the gardener to make of this winter? Shall we rejoice in sweet bursts of sunshine, indulge in temperatures to rival the winter climes of tourist-clogged states? Or shall we crease our foreheads with educated frowns – certain of the impending doom a mild winter will have on flora and fauna conditioned to a painful, but necessary freeze?
Quite frankly, I would prefer to bury my head in the sand, mix my metaphors, and cross that bridge when I come to it.
The poet Shelley was on to something (and no doubt on something) when he sighed to his skylark that, “We look before and after, and pine for what is not.” Give us a mild summer and we complain that the kids are too cold at the pool. Give us a hot summer and we spend most of it inside under the air conditioner. A painful winter makes us cry. A mild winter makes us frown. A fleeting spring is unconscionable, a languishing one stops the tomatoes from flourishing. Fall cannot be too long lest it take away from Yuletide frolicking, yet be it two weeks too short, we are cheated of our autumn display. We are fickle creatures, we human beings.
And ‘fickle’ doesn’t begin to describe the species that is Homo horticulturalis.
Should you stand back, as Shelley once did, and wonder how it would feel to live only in the moment – to be pleased with what we are given and perhaps even revel in it – there will always lurk an educated naysayer who will happily furnish you with a categorized list of why you shouldn’t; and then quote to you from copious sources to ice his contentious cake.
Concerns over cause and effect are perfectly reasonable, but presented ad nauseam, they undermine our potential to be content with “what is” and have the cumulative effect of making us perpetually unhappy about something or other…if only we could remember what it was.
So, with that in mind, I would like to shout over the prophecies of seasonal doom and destruction. I would like to proclaim with a strong clear voice how pleasant, gentle and positively life-affirming this winter has been – and remind the naysayers that there is pleasure to be gained by remaining flexible in one’s expectations. For instance:
As a result of winds that caressed, rather than savaged, my Hypericum, it will remain the robust shrub I always knew it could be; and the baby roses I forgot to protect last fall will be given a second chance to die by my hands next winter.
Thanks to light-if-any-snowfall, the old wood on my macrophylla hydrangeas will not break and should sprout laterals that delight, not disappoint. The privet hedge will not be disfigured, and I may actually enjoy looking at neighborhood cypress again.
Due to a distinct lack of wicked temperatures, we will come through the winter with bees who haven’t frozen to death in hexagonal wax coffins. There could be a surplus of honey, which in turn will make us more popular with friends and relations – particularly those in California who trade fruits-of-the-vine for fruits-of-the-bee.
And yes, I’m aware of the down side to a wimpy winter. The chickweed and bittercress are in full bore, and the summer’s plague of insects is beginning with opportunistic aphids on the roses. The tulips are so early it’s embarrassing and the lilacs are in great danger of losing embryonic buds to a hard freeze. Plus, the pelargoniums have been blooming for so long in the basement that when I ask for a little spring love, they will probably complain of a headache and tell me to chat up the pansies.
Undoubtedly there will be a price to be paid – but if we must pay that price, we should not feel guilty for enjoying this winter while it lasts. I’m certainly not going to. The sunlight warming my boots as I prune will not make me frown, and the sight of February bees laden with pollen will only elicit a smile. Season by season – like Shelley’s skylark – that’s how I mean to roll.
There is a lot of joy to be had from the winter that wasn’t; perhaps we can think of it as some kind of cosmic compensation for the winter of 2010 in the mid-Atlantic region. Many years ago, when I experienced a life-threatening illness, I tried to learn how to balance living every moment as though there wouldn’t be another and planning for the future as though I would have one. I guess I feel the need for some kind of similar balance in dealing with climate change: we need to do whatever we can to reduce human carbon consumption and all its negative consequences; but we also have to make the best of those consequences that will inevitably occur. Thanks for this very thought-provoking post.
My pleasure Jean. I certainly hope that you are well now. The days have been so warm (and the nights) that I am raising my eyebrows – but it is what it is. The bees are certainly not crying any tears over a mild winter – they are working like crazy and building up so fast we may have a swarm in early April! Might as well enjoy the season as much as they are!