The promise of spring and the labor it brings

BY DWAYNE WALLS JR., Columnist
Posted 3/31/21

The best way to see the promise of spring is to take a drive in the country.

Viewed close up, the darling buds of spring are almost indiscernible, but through the windshield of my car I see trees …

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The promise of spring and the labor it brings

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Signs of spring.
Signs of spring.
Staff photo by Kim Hawks
Posted

The best way to see the promise of spring is to take a drive in the country.

Viewed close up, the darling buds of spring are almost indiscernible, but through the windshield of my car I see trees dappled and stippled and daubed with colors, as if the spirit of some long-dead French impressionist were in charge of pixelating each branch. In landscaped areas I see Bradford pear trees as white as virgin snow and screaming yellow forsythia erupting from mulched beds. The redbud tree in our front yard popped. The red magnolia is peaking.

I rejoice at the promise of longer, warmer days ahead. I dare say we all do.

I was walking our dog down a trail through the woods when I caught my first whiff of the new season. As we threaded our way between leafless trees, the sun broke through the morning fog — dramatically illuminating two large colonies of daffodils bursting from the ground off the path. The bright yellow flowers and their fresh green stems looked starkly out of place against the gray and brown winter landscape, stopping me in my tracks with what the poet Wordsworth termed an “impulse from a vernal wood.”

Naturally, I wondered how a colony of bulbs had ended up here, and after some searching I found brick footings outlining where a structure of some sort had stood. Tall trees grew inside the footprint, mute testament to the cycle of decay and renewal as old as any Eleusinian Mystery. To quote my farmer’s almanac, “A peck of spring is worth a king’s ransom.”

Winter is over, and although I am sorry not to have seen any snow, I am ready to be shed of it. I am ready to work in the garden.

Ms. Walls has forgotten more about gardening than I will ever know. She has shelves of books on the subject, and she lived on a farm in upstate New York before we met. She does the planting. My job is to dig where she points, and to mulch after she plants. Only after I show the ability to distinguish the difference between the desirable and undesirable plants does she give me the green light to rip things up by the roots. I must admit, taking out my frustrations against unwanted plants is a great way to channel bottled up frustration accumulated over winter. Gardening also focuses my attention; I find it impossible to ponder anything other than the soil in front of me, the plants in it, and the task at hand. As Benedictine monks in monasteries say in Latin, “Laborare est orare” — which translates as, “To work is to pray.”

But my biggest job is to mow. I mowed my front yard for the first time this past week after changing the oil in the little Briggs & Stratton I bought at Lowe’s a few years back. The mower doubles as an exercise machine; the blades have only about a 12-inch radius, so mowing means me huffing and puffing for about 60 minutes while I push the noisy thing around the yard.

You will notice I write “yard,” not lawn. I do not care what grows outside our flower beds as long as it is green and I can keep it cut close to the ground. I know I should consider dandelions and chickweed and purslane and even clover as enemies to be eradicated, but hey, at least they’re green. I have bush-hogged too many pastures and thrown too many bales of hay to care for fescue or zoysia or bermudagrass. They are all the same to me.

“Stupid, useless grass,” is what I mumble to myself while I push my single-cylinder exercise machine around the house. Last year, I enlarged our flower beds on the logic that every square foot of mulched bed was one less foot of yard I had to mow, but Ms. Walls got wise to me, so I had to stop.

I would stake a goat in my front yard if I thought the HOA would let me get away with it. Perhaps I should; there is no town ordinance against it, like the one against letting animals range free. Maybe I should contact one of our local farmers; I could have their stock eating circles around my trees. Then I could claim they were crop circles and charge two bits a gander, and maybe even bring in some loose change as a petting zoo.

On second thought, after sitting around this past winter, I need the exercise.

Dwayne Walls Jr. has previously written a story about his late father’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease and a first-person recollection of 9/11 for the newspaper. Walls is the author of the book “Backstage at the Lost Colony.” He and his wife Elizabeth live in Pittsboro.

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