In West Virginia, the seasons overlap… winter seeping into summer nights, summer flitting back for a warm afternoon in mid-January.  Weather, then, is not the defining element of a season.  Instead, we know them by their artificacts.  Winter is defined by skeletal, sculptural trees and dried brown grass.  Autumn by the return of the scent of woodsmoke to the air and the oft-rhapsodied colors of the dying leaves. 

 Algae grows from a drainage pipe near Decker's Creek trail; a sure sign that spring has come.

The first artifact of spring is the algae bloom in the creek beds and drainage ditches.  Within a few weeks, these will become fetid pools, but when the first snows melt they are bright and fresh-smelling. 

Next will come to the spring onions and ramps that spring up seemingly overnight and signal the beginning of the spring planting season.  Only frost hardy plants can be put in the ground before mid-May here.  No, that isn’t true.  Only frost hardy plants SHOULD be put in the ground before mid-May.  It’s certainly possible to plan earlier.  I’ve ruined many a crop of seedlings by getting cocky and planting them early.  Killing frosts can come late in the season, long after the daffodils have bloomed and died back again and the strawberries and lettuces are producing their first crop.  Gardening is at least as much an act of faith as it is an act of creation.

Full spring is here when the ground is littered with the shells of bird’s eggs.  White-breasted Nuthatch egg on our front porch.The shard of light blue from a robin’s nest, or deep blue from an eastern bluebird.   White with dark brown speckles for a house sparrow, or lighter brown for a white-breasted nuthatch. There is an egg broken and spilling its golden promise on our porch this morning; I guess it to be the unrealized offspring of the muthatch couple who has set up a nest in our ancient chestnut tree, but am not enough of an ornathologist to know that it is not from the house sparrows who live in the eaves ’round the back of the house.  My guess is based more on proximity to the nest than on the egg itself. 

It has been cold and rainy the last few days; the threat of frost hangs in the early morning hours when the last of the previous day’s warmth is given up to the air and the real chill sets in, but so far we have been spared.  It’s been a good spring for magnolia trees, arugala, and mint.  Already my front yard smells like a cup of herbal tea.  The lemonbalm has taken over the herb bed, crowding out the spearmint.  It’s the new bully on the block… last year, it was the spearmint crowding out the chamomile.  I suppose I will intervene; weed out big colonies of lemonbalm to give the other things room to grow.  But I am hesitant.  There is a beautiful poem, “The Stray” in the April issue of The Sun by Eric Anderson.  As I put on my gardening gloves and go out to kill off a good amount of the lemonbalm, I can’t help thinking of the lovely and haunting way it ends.  “And yet I can’t/even kill these rodents, and want/to protect them from you,/and also want you/not to starve but will no longer/feed you or let you stay./This, then, is being human./ This, then, is not being God.”


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