Sunday, February 6, 2011


or A Matter of Perspective

I can't figure out whether last week in New Mexico was one big, mad scramble or whether everything came to a screeching halt.  It felt like both, really.  Perhaps that's the essence of an emergency—a lot of frantic activity in an effort not to lose ground.

We actually had some severe weather, you see, the kind that seldom happens here, with snow, ice, Arctic winds, and bitter cold all at once.  Record-breaking sub-zero Fahrenheit temperatures combined with natural gas shortages to deprive some 30,000 homes of heat, and led the governor to declare a state of emergency.  Schools were closed for four days; the universities, national labs, and state offices shut down to conserve gas.  Pipes froze and burst, furnaces went on the fritz (I had a little of that drama myself), some cities even had rolling blackouts.  Churches and school buildings turned into impromptu emergency shelters.  In Albuquerque, where many people don't own ice scrapers, let alone serious mittens or boots, many chose not to venture out at all.

So once the cold eased up and I'd had a chance to inspect the garden for damage, I just had to laugh at the contrast.   Yes, a couple of plants that weren't really thriving seem to have received the coup de grâce, and the ones that are only semi-evergreen have lost their leaves, but look what the Lady Jane tulips accomplished this week:

They've grown a good two to three inches since the last time I looked.  And the tarragon—one of the most tender plants I grow—broke ground in some new places:

The little nubs of crocuses coming up have turned into definite leaves, the catmint has fuzzy new growth at its base, and generally, most of the plants are acting like this weather never happened.

While all this drama has been carrying on in the human world, while we've all been fussing and worrying and hunkering down, the garden has been quietly getting on with things.  The realization made me catch my breath—it was one of those moments when you catch a brief glimpse into something alien and beautiful, when you realize what a different rhythm plants are attuned to and catch the faintest echo of it yourself.  The frantic tempo of wind and weather—so dangerous to us—doesn't really seem to matter to them.  Secure in their rootedness, pacing themselves to the slow ebb and flow of seasons, their priorities are elsewhere.  The days are lengthening; the sun is getting stronger.  And so, snow and wind and cold notwithstanding, buds are fattening, tulips leafing out, and new growth stirring underground.  It's as if the weather that affects us so powerfully is completely beyond their ken.

In the rock-paper-scissors game of gardening, of course, sometimes weather does trump seasonal instinct.  (I would encourage any plants that are listening to remember that our average last frost date isn't until the middle of April.)  But what a lovely manner of living—to be attuned to something beyond the fuss and bother of momentary squalls, to respond to a larger pull and tug toward life.

I almost want to say, "Amen."


  1. Beautiful. So beautiful. Love your words and your garden. Thank you for sharing both with us here.



  2. Ha - the middle of April. We should be so lucky up here in Denver. If delicate plants venture forth before mid May they do it at their own risk. I remember many years ago when first arriving from the Mid-West and going to the Builder Square and getting plants in April - then going back in May to buy replacements for them all. Lessons learned!

  3. Thank you, Elaine. I'm so glad to be able to share my enjoyment!

    Mark - Oof, that first spring in Denver must have been a shocker! In Vermont the frost date was May 31, so Memorial Day was a frenzied planting weekend for a lot of people. I'm still kind of gloating about the change since moving here...