the gardener

I am not a gardener. My mother was. My husband was. Both of them tried to convert me with noble attempts at prestidigitation that aimed to turn my black thumb green, but they never worked. Rest assured, I love flora of all varieties. I enjoy being in their company, basking in all their delicate and aromatic glory. But I’ve always had a certain way with plants: I kill them.

When I was a kid, Mama gave me pretty little impatiens in a pretty little pot. They died. Arriving in college, I received some plant or other (I don’t remember what) as a welcoming gesture on freshman move-in day. It died. My late husband often gave me living things from the vegetable kingdom, but after witnessing several slow deaths under my care, he stopped relying on me to actually keep them alive. He knew that anything requiring air and water for sustenance would need to acquire them from someone besides me, because even when I supplied them in a timely manner, my well-intended ministrations went somehow horribly awry.

Of the 15 or so houseplants Chris tended indoors, I’ve managed to keep eight of them alive. Although I grieve for the seven dead ones, the survivors remain my eight little miracles. Don’t ask me how I’ve done it. I water them now and then. I plead with them not to whither. I blow them kisses and dance the flamenco. At times I’ve been known to engage in human sacrifice just to appease them. Don’t scoff; it works.

Meanwhile, Chris’s gardens — and they’ll always be his gardens — are still out there, still obeying the cycle of life despite my floricidal nature. After he died, some lovely neighbors weeded when they saw the need or planted when they saw a gap. Bless them forever for it, but I knew I had to do something on my own. And so, the first spring after his death, I made a go at weeding and pruning and raking and watering, and I marveled at the way life sprouted from the dirt around me. How’d that happen? What’d I do? Something right? Nah. Must have been the flamenco.

On Sunday, barely a week after the last of the dismal, dirty snow chunks melted away in my front yard, I threw on a pair of shorts and started raking the garden. There, beneath a cover of dead leaves, I spied a spray of crocuses: lavender, hopeful and sweet. It was good to see them again. These graceful wee harbingers of warmth, yellow nosing from their middles, are a perennial reminder of the ephemeral Chris. Each spring, they return — and each spring, I stand there on my tiny patch of lawn, marveling at the beauty and the stubbornness of life, tossing up a whispered “thanks” to my late husband. They’re a gift. So was he.

twenty-one signs of spring

no appendages were harmed in the making of this photo

no appendages were harmed in the making of this photo

We all have our signs of spring. For some, it’s the rhythmic tattoo of woodpeckers. For others, the first peeking violet of crocuses. For many, it’s allergies. Still others: the heady whiff of driveway sealant.

Me, I have pale skin and leftovers as my go-to vernal signifiers. Also, how’s this for springtime observances? I just put away my snow shovel.

Yes! And no, I’m not afraid! Some may fear that I’ve just jinxed this recent spell of perfect weather, just as I ruined the last spell of perfect weather by (gasp) wearing shorts. Northerners are nothing if not superstitious about our seasonal pagan rituals, which stop just shy of human sacrifice. Which, I realize, I may well be inviting upon myself. I’m not sure what violence my neighbors will wreak upon me if it snows again: Drape me by my pinkies from the bell tower of Albany City Hall while the carillon plays “Michelle”? If so, that would be tragic. It would, however, prevent me from wearing shorts again in the future.

But hope springs. . . and springs. . . and springs. I’m not worried about the snow shovel. I’m feeling pretty confident that this is it, O People of the Rock Salt. Today, at last, spring is upon us. Here’s how I know:

1. Leftover ham. I hadn’t realized this, but the chunk of pink, salty flesh I purchased for Easter was enough to feed everyone I know, and, as previously discussed, I know every last person in Albany short of Governor Andy. But only 15 people sat down to dinner in my house. So there is enough left over in my fridge for the remaining 96,985 residents.

2. My wet basement, which floods and smells like joy.

3. No more footless pantyhose. Bet you haven’t heard this one before. In the winter I snip the feet and wear them as long underwear. Great idea, huh? You’ll be relieved to know I’ve now stopped doing that. You read it here first.

4. The ice cream truck. I’ve always welcomed this as a harbinger of happiness and warmth, even when my kids were small and its clanging music-box iteration of “Für Elise” ROUSED THEM FROM THEIR AFTERNOON NAPS and THEY WOKE DEMANDING SPONGEBOB POPSICLES. The thing came down my street on Sunday. Yup. Just what kids need on Easter: YET. MORE. SUGAR.

5. Circulation. It returns to my limbs! How amazing! Thanks to an uptick in the temperature, I no longer lose bloodflow in my smallest, most vulnerable appendages, a not-uncommon phenomenon that often requires me to run them under hot water or, if no sink is available, bite them. (Do I do this with my toes as well as my fingers? You may ask, but I refrain to answer, preferring to maintain an air of mystery.)

6. Leftover ham.

7. Hatless sleeping. No, wait. That’s a lie. The hat comes off in June. And yes, I sleep with a hat. What can I say. I’m weird.

8. Shorts. I mentioned these above, but only in the context of Ways in Which I’ve Screwed Up Spring For Every Single Person in Upstate New York. Still, I do it. I wear them. I wore them again before Easter. I wriggled my lower body into this truncated cotton legwear despite the possibility of causing a wintry meteorological event of pseudo-biblical proportions. And despite. . .

9. . . . my blinding white legs. A related sign: the mobs of passersby, cruelly and totally blinded, their hands before their faces, their corneas seared to crispy wafers, their mouths howling in pain and horror at my approach.

10. In yet more appendage-related news: stubbed toes from lurching around barefoot. As a kid, I broke them with such frequency that a friend diagnosed my condition as “ame-foot-hurt-itis.” Now I just stub the shit out of them. Passersby howl in pain and horror at the sight of those, too.

11. Leftover double-liters of crap-generic soda that no one drinks, at Easter dinner or any other time.

12. Leftover desserts that I consume for breakfast.

13. Did I mention leftover ham?

14. The scent of dead leaves.

15. Scratched, stinging forearms from pruning the bushes that gnarl the perimeter of my teensy but shrubbery-packed front and back yards.

16. The scent of defrosted dog doo-doo.

17. The whine of buzz saws. Not mine. Other people’s. Considering the wounds I incur just by pruning and walking barefoot, I wouldn’t trust myself with one of those things.

18. Rowers on the Hudson.

19. In yet more shorts- and appendage-related news: cyclists in clinging bolts of shiny black spandex.

20. Children.

  • The infants born over the winter who appear, bundled in strollers, their moist, open faces shifting from thrilled curiosity (what a big world!) to shuddering worry (what a big world!) and back again;
  • The toddlers who bolt outside naked to pee. This doesn’t happen every year, and I don’t always witness it when it does (I did this year), but it is as sure a sign of spring as the cadence of the phoebe;
  • The older kids, notably taller after long months of hibernation, who emerge to play basketball at the hoop in front of my house. They say “hi” with lower voices, their faces more defined, their bearings more mature.

Kids growing up: what better and lovelier evidence of spring can we ever hope for? And finally. . .

21. Leftover ham.