I take a deep breath on this frigid New England morning. The air feels cold and steely in my lungs, but at the same time incredibly refreshing compared to the re-circulated dry, warm air in the house just two feet behind me. I am barefoot on the small, colorful, and very wet welcome mat on my back deck. From inside it looked a bit warmer out, but one inhale tells a different story.
The thermometer reads 22 degrees Fahrenheit. Even though the air is cold and frigid, there are several signs that spring is on the way. The most exciting sign for me is the red buds on the trees that boarder our yard. Despite the cold, the trees are aware of the subtle shifts in the atmosphere and are preparing to put forth an abundance of greenery in just a few short weeks. While I’m looking out I can see signs of frost on the top of the barbeque cover, yet I hear birds singing and chirping in the air. That is not something I can say in February. Just the mere fact that the porch furniture was put out means there was a day warm enough not long ago that prompted us to ritualistically begin preparations for the warmer months.
In the evenings while laying in bed at night, I am able to hear the peeper frogs through my closed bedroom window. In the late spring and summer when we sleep with the windows open, we not only hear the peepers; but all types of crickets and woodsy life through the evening.
For months the ground has been receiving precipitation in the form of freezing rain and snow. But the ground was solid, even during some of the unusually warm 50 degree days in the past few months. Despite the cold, the extra sun is warming our ground to sufficiently keep a thaw as evidenced by my weight digging ever so slightly into the dirt. This I notice while walking the dog after dinner or while cutting across the lawn to grab the mail.
As I stand on the deck looking out, I feel a flutter of excitement in my chest. Summer is on the way. The cover on the grill will be perpetually removed as we spend many evenings cooking outside instead of in the kitchen. The deck furniture will constantly be moved, full or crumbs and stained with ketchup due to the many hours we move the chairs from the sun, pull a chair in closer to watch a movie together around a laptop, and eat almost every meal al fresco.
A look over the deck down to the yard below has my heart fluttering a bit more. We have a really large garden that is now empty down the hill in our sloped yard. Very soon the asparagus tips will start shooting out from the ground on the right side of the garden, just outside the wooden boarders but inside the fence where we planted them several years ago. The strawberries will soon follow. Every year those crazy strawberries try to invade the neighboring soil in the garden after a few weeks above ground, but each year we gently pull back the little green pointers that latch quite firmly into the dirt.
In the summertime the garden is brimming with all types of crops – kale, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, beets, squash, eggplant, peppers, green beans, herbs like basil, parsley, oregano, mint…. and more. Each year we try our hand at a few new seeds. One of the finer ways that I feel in touch with nature is preparing meals with ingredients that came from our garden.
There is a point every year where the yield is almost too much to keep up with. Especially the kale, spinach and lettuce. Almost daily I take a trip down the hill to pick the greens. Carefully cutting the leaves back to main stem keeps the greens producing all season, but it’s quite a time consuming task. The bugs are wild at that time of year. At least half of the time I will forget to slather on some bug repellent and get completely mobbed by whatever is out there. Often the sun is so hot that by the time I finish cutting back the greens, the ones I started to cut begin to wilt. Avoiding that wilt requires several trips back into the air-conditioned house where they will stay fresh until I have a chance to clean them. Getting back into the house is tricky business because my sandals, legs and behind are muddy, and I need to trek up the hill in the scorching sun. The trip doesn’t stop up the hill, I still need to climb steep steps of the deck. It really isn’t too far, but by the time I reach the back door I’m often panting from the exertion. A cool wave of cold air will hit me when I open the door to go in. Unlike the frigid air this morning when I opened the door (which felt like an unpleasant shock but very natural); the air-conditioned air in the summer feels pleasant, yet completely unnatural. I have to take off my shoes so as to not drag mud into the house. I need to almost creep into the house and try not to touch anything or shake the crops too much, as this will create all kinds of dirt and mess. After several trips to the garden to avoid wilting, it’s another several minutes to sometimes hours of processing the greens. They need to be soaked several for rounds, then spun and bagged. There is always more than we can ever eat; so our neighbors, co-workers and friends often become the unwilling, yet very thankful recipients of our labor.
I take a step back from the railing overlooking the hill. The deck feels cold and frigid under my bare feet with every step I take. As long as I don’t move, my feet seem to begin to warm up the peeling wood beneath them. My next thought wanders to the peeling wood. We need to paint it again. It needs to be painted or touched up annually, notwithstanding the promises on the labels of every deck paint we’ve ever tried with pictures of freshly painted decks that promise a 5-year guarantee. That is a chore to add to the to do list. As will be the weekly hassle of weeding in addition to the more than weekly imposition of mowing the lawn, weed wacking, cleaning up the mulch that looks plain awful after the lawn clippings or dog diggings. Ugh, not to mention the constant sweeping of the decks, walkway and sidewalk in front of our home. As I look around the yard my heart starts to flutter in anguish this time thinking about how much work the summer is. Why am I looking forward to it? The winter seems nice and simple as the upkeep of the home is only fractions of what the summer warrants when you have a large lawn and garden. I rather enjoy coming home in the dark at four in the afternoon, changing into comfy clothes and parking on the sofa with a good book by the fire for the evening. It feels wrong at this time of year at 6:45 pm to not be fully dressed. While the sun might be shining, it’s way to cold to enjoy the outdoors.
At the moment I’m cold and I have nothing on except my flimsy pajama pants and my daughter’s college sweatshirt, I make the crazy decision to walk down the steep stairs of the deck to take a look around the yard. There is the fire pit in the grass and Adirondack chairs that are sitting under the deck waiting their time to come out for the summer. We have a swing under the deck with an orange cushion and two pillows that is great for summer reading, but also a prime spot to be bitten by mosquitos. I start to walk around the house up the hill and remember how steep this is. I am reminded of the flower bed on the side of the house that is a whole lot of work to keep up as well. My heart starts to pound now as I am exerting energy up this little hill while my lungs are taking in the frigid cold. As I round the flower bed and step into my driveway I see the crocus’ that came up a few weeks ago in full bloom. They are the first of the flowers to come up. Their little green shoots are often seen in late February. Just a quick look at them makes my heart slow down just a little.
As I come up the walkway I see more crocus’ on the flowerbed to the other side of the house. They too are in full bloom. And right next to them are daffodils that are about to burst forth. Their yellow petals are closed, but any day now they will open up to their full beauty.
I smile internally. I love the flowers in the summer. I love to prune them back, clean up the mess around them, and bring many of them into the house. All summer we have fresh flowers around the house. Every single time I look at them I am awed by the sense of their beauty. It is one of my favorite things about summer. As is having the windows open at night. As are the fresh fruit pies I make, the salads we often eat, the fresh tomatoes… oh my.
All seasons are beautiful by their own right. When the days start to become shorter and the mornings in late August and early September chillier, I begin to dread the winter. I can’t conceive how it could be dark in the morning or in the evening. I can’t imagine not sitting out on the deck for meals and reading in the evenings by the light of tikki torches and sound of crickets. But as the days do start to shorten I thoroughly enjoy the colors of the trees, the browning of the flower beds and garden, and pulling out the sweaters and fuzzy boots. While there is a certain satisfaction and connection to nature from caring for the outside for several hours and then enjoying the view with a cool beverage, there is also a certain contentment with putting away the garden tools and lawn furniture for the winter and turning inwards.
I walk back into my home through the front door and feel the unnatural warm blast of air hit me while I wipe the dirt from my feet on the doormat, closing out the frigid morning behind me. I’m content. Nature is beautiful and I’m feeling completely grateful.