The days grow noticeably longer. More full-bodied is the light. The complex of trees upon the hillsides has been woven into a beautiful, subtle heather of grays and browns since November. But the saps flow up the trunks and out to the branches’ tips now. There comes deep crimson infused in twiglets, enriching the heather in the wild gardens of trees. Farmers know this. Some tap through the plated bark of sugar maples to collect the life blood from the veins of these emblematic giants. If you stand very still and can quiet your busy mind you might sense the germinal buds barely beginning to stir from a dark winter’s sleep under protective sheaths at the delicate tips of branchlets.
The secret, cool consciousness of the plant kingdom is at the edge of life at this time. Snows melt. Drops of ether and diamonds plummet from the points of silver icicles crashing against larger, lower branches. They, in turn, burst into dozens of droplets falling to earth in a synchronized dive. The sun, higher in the sky, throws more heat. The trees sense it. This is the prologue to the processional that will soon come. It is February.
T. S. Eliot wrote:
April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land
But it is February that is the most difficult month for gardeners. We long to reconnect with the earth, to replenish our spiritual selves. We miss plunging our hands into loose, friable soils alive with beneficial organisms – up to our elbows. The anxiety grows as the days expand; it is a hard place to be – a limbo, purgatory. The urge coursing through us increases daily as saps compound in the pulmonary systems of trees. Lilacs? Oh, to sniff their sublime perfume at this time! T. S. Eliot: you have not known gardeners nor have you requested their sage understanding of the circadian cycles to which we all are bound. We dance daily to these rhythms. We are the children of these rhythms. Lilacs? They will come. They will bloom. Their heady fragrance points to the verge of summer – such a long rhythm away.
February is the gardener’s wasteland. It is cruel that winter lingers long. We bide the dry hours pouring through seed catalogs and plant listings, the glossier the photographs, the better. We make “to do” lists. Most will be abandoned when trowel replaces pencil. But anything that will now connect us to the coming spring, no matter how desperate or remote. We travel to flower and garden shows seeking Mecca just to covet a taste of the desire fomenting in our souls. Warmer days at this season inspire cardinals and titmice to spring song. All of these exacerbate the deep itch. We have little choice but to wait. February cautions patience.
This is the time to prune many of our specimen trees and shrubs. We grasp the cold handles of our loppers. We clip the scabbards holding our pruning shears to our belts. This is dress rehearsal for the processional. It is a good work, a worthy task. Savor it as best you can. It is not the touching and smelling of soils. It is, alas, not the holy grail of lodging vibrant plant roots into the land.
We search our gardens for any sign of life, the rounded tips of daffodil leaf clusters punching through frozen clots of soil, hellebores pushing forth from hibernation. Perhaps a precocious snow drop will have emerged in a sheltered nook that has collected the sun’s humble midwinter warmth. Perhaps pussy willows are cracking bud sheaths like chicks hatching from eggs. Might threads of a witch hazel begin to bravely peer into the clear polar breath? It is not yet to be. It will be soon, but patience for now.
We must learn to cultivate patience. Slow down. Adopt a more Zen approach. Come to appreciate the season at hand. Love the season that is. Become a dancer in the season of nonce. Do not wish the time away, rather, use it wisely. Do not throw the moment into the wasteland. Revel in the beauty that is present. Compartmentalize the burning desire hearkening the morrow. Quell the passion of what cannot be, not now. Dance the moment. Walt Whitman knew better. Walt Whitman became one with the seasons at hand. He discovered joy in patience.
Unseen buds, infinite, hidden well,
Under the snow and ice, under the darkness, in every square or cubic inch,
Germinal, exquisite, in delicate lace, microscopic, unborn,
Like babes in wombs, latent, folded, compact, sleeping;
Billions of billions, and trillions of trillions of them waiting,
(On earth and in the sea – the universe – the stars there in the heavens,)
Urging slowly, surely forward, forming endless,
And waiting ever more, forever more behind.
Close your eyes. Can you not sense the sleeping giant of life all around us? It is there. It is now. Embrace this knowledge for it is beautiful. It is calming, soothing.
Find joy in patience. There is elegance in it.
penned by Wayne Paquette