In spring an old man’s fancy turns to thoughts of … well, all kinds of unrelated things. That’s both a blessing and a distraction.
I received my third COVID-19 shot the weekend of March 20-21, administered not by a needle but by the calendar. March 20 marked the first day of spring, and the weather leaned into its role perfectly to boost my health and welfare. Temperatures were in the 60s with blue skies and a slight breeze, and my spirits were lifted by being home and not wearing a mask nor worrying about social distancing.
I’d been working on my 2020 taxes, a dreaded chore each year. I know the IRS has pushed the due date until May 17, but I’m still aiming for April 15 just to get them out of my all-but-gone hair. I do wonder how we’ve allowed the annual tax process to become so complicated that you must hire a professional or use expensive software to beat the beast. I find the software’s cascading interrogatories, murky wording, and data entry tortuous and the equivalent of the medieval rack for my tormented mind.
In-between bouts with 1099-Rs and Schedule Cs from Form 1040, I kept my sanity by working in the garden. I was happy to plant potatoes, just missing the traditional date of St. Patrick’s Day by 48 hours. I also set up cold frames in my raised beds and planted seeds for lettuce, basil, parsley, radishes, zinnias, and marigolds, sheltering them from low temperatures and potential snow with my daughter’s old storm windows. Outside the frames I sowed the heartier beets and spinach seeds. I know getting an early jump on the growing season is always risky business because a killing frost remains a threat up until Mother’s Day, but the prospect of an early harvest is well worth it. Last year a late frost did burn the tops of my potato plants, but they quickly recovered and surrendered a fine harvest.
I avoid walking on the soil in the raised beds because it unnecessarily compresses it. I revel in the sweet results when using a hand trowel to make seed furrows. It’s like stabbing into beach sand. That’s because the rich, loamy soil has benefited from the kitchen scraps I bury from fall through winter if the ground isn’t frozen. What I especially like is getting on my knees to study the velvety medium close-up. It teems with all sorts of life you can see — squirming earth worms, skittering centipedes, and writhing millipedes, as well as microscopic organisms — all working synergistically to enrich the soil. The only kitchen scraps that don’t immediately break down are corn cobs, peanut shells, and eggshells, though they’ll be gone by mid-summer. That’s the circle of life: dust to dust and ashes to ashes. It’s a real sensual experience running my fingers through the soil as I individually insert pinhead sized radish seeds and the even tinier basil and parsley seeds.
Most of these crops will be harvested or transplanted in time to make room for the real champs of summer: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, and butternut squash. I rotate my crops, ensuring that the soil doesn’t become depleted by planting the same vegetables in the same locations year after year.
We had a large maple tree moved in November. It had gotten too big for its location near our man-made pond and was starting to thrust roots through the pond liner. We didn’t have a heart to cut it down, so hired a fellow who owned and operated amazing, heavy equipment right out of “Star Wars.” It can uproot and replant trees as tall as 40 feet. We’ve been anxiously obsessing about the tree all winter, hoping that we hadn’t killed it, but lo and behold it’s now festooned with reddish buds just ready to bust open. What a testimony to the life force, whether as exhibited by this tree or in the daffodils popping up where six inches of snow stood just weeks ago.
This season is rich in parallels between nature’s renewal and what solemnly plays out in the Christian gospel cycle leading to Holy Week, which includes yesterday’s Holy Thursday and today’s Good Friday. Christians worldwide are commemorating Christ’s death on the cross and His being placed in the tomb and anticipating the miracle of His resurrection on Sunday.
Occurring simultaneously amidst the annual tableau of flowering bulbs, budding trees, and sprouting gardens, these timeless mysteries reached their culmination more than two centuries ago when a stone was pushed away from the tomb. Christ Himself prefigured this season of rebirth when he explained, “… unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24)
May all your gardens, spiritual and earthly, blossom exuberantly this spring.
Frank Batavick writes from Westminster. His column appears every other Friday. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.