Kate Flora: It’s April, the month of my late mother’s birthday. It was the 17th, and of course I walked around the yard, peering at the newly emerging plants and shrubs, and thought of her. Often, on April 17th, we would have a picnic down by the lake. It didn’t matter if it was freezing, or if the ice had gone out, she wanted a picnic for her birthday, and a picnic we would have.
Thinking about mom–a garden writer, a newspaper columnist, a food writer, a passionate gardener, and the kind of grandma who would prowl the dusty, spider-infested basement with her grandchild, observing insects–led me to pull her collection of season essays, From the Orange Mailbox, off the shelf and turn to April.
Here is one of those essays:
“March” sounds harsh and has connotations of weariness and dreary journeys with cold
and tired feet. But “April” has a lilt to it. I find myself alternating between impulses to sail bits of bark as boats down the run-off streams (betting on their safe sailing through the culvert) and the need to stand in silent wonder at the vast tilting and revolving of this ponderous planet which has brought the sunset back to my kitchen window.
In January it was necessary to walk through the house to the guest room to watch the setting sun. On June twenty-first two tall spruce trees on top of the ridge will frame the sun as it sets directly across from the corner windows above my orange sink. The morning sun no longer creeps up over the tall pines but, having moved northward, springs up beyond the orchard as though it couldn’t wait to warm the world.
There’s an excitement about beginnings and April is another beginning the spiral of my country years, an onward, upward continuity of living and participating the cycle of growth and harvest. The annual miracle of spring with the stirrings of the soil and the quickening of the plants is proof that life persists despite earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and human follies. This miracle is also a powerful, pulsing reminder that I do not control the life on my acres.
Living in the country tends to focus my thinking toward a fairly small world but one I know well and see as a whole. I’ve learned what influences good production on my farm and have adjusted to what can be changed and what must be accepted. Garden records show an average of 112 frost-free nights. No necessarily warm, growth-promoting nights–just those without white frost. If the seed catalog says 110 days to maturity, I know about what my chances of success will be.
The day the ice goes out of the pond I start my tomato seedlings. If tomato seedlings stay in the house too long they tend to get spindly. If they’re set out before the soil is warm, they just sit and sulk. Ic-out time makes a reasonable, easy-to-remember time to start the seeds and gives me the feeling of working with nature.
Until I moved to this house on the hill overlooking the pond, I had never seen any body of water free itself from its strait jacket of ice. The first year, I described the pond in December as “. . . all pure and white. It stretches north for two miles giving the valley a tranquil, refreshed look.” In March, I saw the same scene as “so dull and monotonous. The whole valley appears dead and boring and I long for open, splashing, reflecting water.”
We used to place bets on the day the pond would be free of ice and the winner could choose dessert. Ice-out brought chocolate roll with whipped cream, lemon pie, blueberry steamed pudding, Indian pudding and others now forgotten. Then the ice-out picnic and watching for the first sign of the loons–all part of the excitement of April.
The house used to be full of flats and pots and cans of seedlings until the time required to water and turn and re-transplant the hundreds of green growing things brought more frustration than pleasure. I do start eggplant and peppers because there are certain varieties I want to test. But I tend only enough seedlings for my garden plan. There may be some status in having the earliest broccoli in the neighborhood but rather than tending seedlings indoors I’ll use my time to be outside sniffing the world now that April’s here.
The earth, giving up its winter rigidity, exudes many different fragrances: the gentle pungent scent of wet oak leaves, the sharp, sweet odor of the first green grasses, the soft, rich aroma of the dark compost.
The soil is for growing and life is for living. Spring reminds me of the constant chances within the framework of eternal community. Only by cooperating with the soil and understanding the laws of nature can I garden with pleasure. I need to grow my food. I need to continue the gardening experiments for my writing assignments. April, the month of renewal, reminds me that my acres must be managed to provide me with time to celebrate being and feeling alive, time to slow down and savor my joy in living here. Joy is the best harvest.