Yesterday I went outside in an attempt to initiate the production of Vitamin D by a body wearied with four walls and space heaters. And not a moment too soon. Coleridge’s “Dejection: An Ode” sat open upon my desk, and I was starting to bypass Christopher Lloyd and a glass of red in the evenings in favor of a hot milky drink and short stories by Edgar Allen Poe.
It was a good day for it. The sun was high in the sky and the wind had died down, making it possible to pause here and there without grinding my teeth together and wishing I lived in equatorial Africa. At first I made a half-hearted attempt to move a few pots around and begin the process of rejuvenating the shade garden on the north side of the house. The once slushy snow had frozen into an undulating path of ice troughs, and not surprisingly the half-barrels I wished to move were still frozen to my Zone Six soil. It became clear within minutes that the north side of a house is no place to wander in search of sunlight or inspiration, so I took my booted feet south, towards the illuminated skeletons of Agastache and Caryopteris and surveyed the sunny flower border in the midst of her winter slumber.
I settled on my haunches next to an Amsonia, took the pruners out of my pocket and gave her an informal crew cut, enjoying the feel of the sun on my hair and the thought of finally being useful in some small way; but then quickly thought better of it. My memory is not the sharpest some days, and removing these tangible reminders of perennial garden structure – before I am truly ready to start moving plants around in the annual gardening romp of musical chairs – is not the hottest of ideas. So I stood up again and moved around aimlessly, unwilling to remove untidy blankets of leaves in the name of productivity – just in case they were the only thing standing between a fragile root system and terminal frostbite.
It was so quiet outside, and the sunlight so restoring, that after awhile I felt myself drawn to the garden bench which lives under the Silver Maple. With no wind to speak of, and bundled up by a thousand layers of fleece and flannel, I stretched my legs out and turned my face to the sun.
Without taking these words to a sappy land of literary indulgence that I will no doubt regret in the morning, it is impossible to describe the feeling of renewal I experienced while sitting there – a feeling contrasted sharply by previous months’ worth of mental and physical hibernation.
And then slowly I became aware of the sap running in the great tree above me.
I suppose the sun coma had deafened me somewhat to the patter of drops hitting the ground around my feet – until one splattered onto my forehead and dribbled down my nose onto my lips. I tasted the weak sugary liquid cautiously and watched as another drop hit the fabric of my jacket and was slowly absorbed into the texture of the heavy canvas weave.
Sap splashed onto the stones stacked in walls around me. It hit the garden bench in polka-dot patterns and rustled the leaves at my feet. The stronger the sun seemed to shine, the faster the sap seemed to run. And I sat there and let it hit my jeans and my jacket, my hair and my face.
And I realized to my great relief that the maple knew that spring was coming – even if I had forgotten. That should I remove that ragged blanket of leaves, I would more than likely see the tiny, feathery fingers of larkspur seedlings, or the sturdy cotyledons of lunaria, germinating in an inch of insulated soil.
And were I able to dig down three or four inches through frost and ice, I would come across the tips of tête á tête daffodils, steadfastly growing towards an early March debut. All hidden, all quietly tuned to imperceptible changes in the length of days and the strength of the sun.
If you have never closed your eyes against the sun on a winter’s day, whether sitting in a sunny window or sitting on a cold garden bench, I encourage you to do so now. A few minutes of meditation in the midst of February’s icy grip can slap the synapses out of a tendency towards morose musings and eighteenth-century poetry.
The balance of power is starting to shift out there. Close your eyes and experience it for yourself.