Sunday, March 20, 2011

Spring Is a Verb

or The Winds of Change

On the desert side of the highway, dust devils spun through the four-winged salt bush and cholla—spun, plumed, disintegrated.  On the valley side, where the Rio Grande flows (if water that is half mud can be said to flow), alfalfa fields pinned the soil down, and the dust devils left it alone.  Other patches of green showed—family farms, elm trees alive with insignificant blooms, a faint haze at the tips of the cottonwoods.

My parents just visited for a few days, and we took a drive south of town, where the New Mexican spring with its stark contrasts lay before us, spread out from one horizon to the other.  The desert side of it is suspicious of the calendar and has no intention of greening up (as we think of it, without irony) until there is no possible way, no-how, not at all, nary a chance, that there might be a frost.  As far as the desert plants are concerned, that will be sometime in May.  Perhaps.  (It's usually in mid-April, but why should they have faith in "usually?")  By then, we may also have had some rain—not much, but some—and the salt bush, big sage, and chamisa are happy to bide their time on that off-chance.  They bank most of their energy until midsummer, when the monsoon rains arrive.

In the settled lands, however, especially along the valleys, we believe in the calendar and are kicking up our heels at today's equinox.  We have our garden plants and our water; we cultivate the land and bring green to the desert.  We bargain with frost and grow things that don't really mind it, even if later on these aliens will need shelter from the harsh realities of summer.

And the wind blows.  Short-lived whirlwinds, where cold and warm air meet for a few dizzy moments; gusts that ricochet off the cars on the road and make drivers fight their steering wheels; warm breezes that lure you outside; sudden chilly ones that send you back in again; gentle currents that carry the fragrance of sand cherry blossoms on their backs.

Spring and wind are almost synonymous here, both of them in constant—and not always forward—motion.  The pace of action has been stunning this week, when the temperatures have been in the 70's F every day.  Every time I've stepped into the garden some new change has presented itself:  a new tulip in bloom, another sprinkling of ipheion; the tarragon and walking onions suddenly ready for a generous harvest; leaves popping out all along the Lady Banks rose; seedlings growing their first true leaves and then some.  Town is a mass of ornamental plum and pear trees in bloom, with the occasional forsythia bush on fire in the sunshine.  Songbirds dart busily in and out of juniper trees.  All the season's potential energy has turned kinetic—we've crested the hill and begun to rush forward into spring.

As I was sitting on the patio working through that idea in my notebook this afternoon, a sudden wind chased me inside.  It wasn't so much a dust devil as a dust, dead leaves, and litter devil (does everything have to be more complicated in cities?), and it reminded me that no matter how lovely it is, spring is still an unsettled season, a verb season.  It is one of capricious change, of ricocheting forces, of sudden frosts and fast-moving storm fronts, a dizzying mix of warm and cold air, of giddy pleasure and champing-at-the-bit frustration.

I am telling myself all this because, if the last few years are anything to go by, at some point in April we will have a good ten days of cold, gray, dreary weather.  (New Mexico dreary, that is:  sunglasses may not be appropriate at all times.)  It might even rain.  In the past, this cold spell has arrived after I've put all the warm clothes away for the season and have stocked the refrigerator with cool, refreshing salads.  It has been a grumpy time, because I have forgotten that spring is a verb.  I'm trying to remember this year, to let the wind caution me to be a suspicious desert plant.

But oh, how hard it is to stay suspicious when we're on the valley side of springtime, and we transplants are reveling in the sunshine...



  1. Beautiful and truthful. I can remember times when we've gotten snow on Easter.
    Every year this warm spell fools my father's peach trees, only to kill off any hope of peaches with one last frost.

  2. Hubby and I were in Santa Fe around this time last year. It was our first time there. We were driving from ABQ to Santa Fe after we landed and watched our first tumbleweeds cross our path while driving in a snowstorm. We thought we had left the New England cold and snow behind only to find exactly the same weather we had left behind. What we didn't know was that the snow would melt rapidly the next morning as if it had never happened. Such a contrary season.

  3. I just want to say that your pictures and language are incredible!
    Your post certainly hits home, as our warm spell just abandoned us here in Pennsylvania. We've gone from 76° to 40° in the span of two very short days. You're absolutely right, Spring is most definitely a verb!

  4. Beautiful Stacy. Our bulbs in CO are just starting to peek through the winter ground. Can't wait.

  5. New Mexico is so cool this way...depending where you happen to be you may have more or less rain, more or less cold, well not wind that is everywhere...I love the microclimates that seem to pop up...I am wary here of spring because as we speak on the first day we have rain at my house and snow where I work an hyour away...

  6. Mud, it is so happy-making to have another garden blogger here in ABQ!!! Yes, most people I know with peach and apricot trees grow them hoping that maybe this will be one of the glorious years when they don't freeze...

    Baffled, I'm just laughing at the combination of tumbleweeds and snow. :) Santa Fe can get some serious snow, but here in ABQ it almost never stays on the ground for long - they have kind of a mañana approach to plowing, and it actually works pretty well.

    Nathan, thanks so much! This is the time of year for "dressing in denial," as one of my friends puts it, when we just try to pretend those 40°days aren't really happening...

    Lisa, thank you. My folks said we seem to be maybe 3 weeks ahead of CO down here, so it won't be long... Iirc from the photos you posted last year, you have some gorgeous flowers up there!

    Donna, I hadn't thought of there being more microclimates here than in the NE, but now I see what you mean - even a little bit more shelter from sun or access to water makes a big difference out here. Well, your rain sounds nice and spring-like, but not that snow... Spring is just not a trust-worthy season!

  7. Reading your beautiful prose, I glanced at the pictures to the side. The anticipation of your bloom opening was almost as if I was there! I couldn't wait to get to Sunday!

  8. Thanks, Holley! Sunday actually came as quite a surprise - I can't believe the tulips went from bud to bloom that fast!

  9. Spring has sprung in South Dakota - in the sense that one springs right back indoors after experiencing icy 35mph winds, lol.

    In spite of this, though, the maple tree in the front yard has tiny buds. They might freeze when it snows tomorrow, but they are there just the same.

    I read an article today that says one can tap maples in South Dakota and make syrup, much the same way they do in Vermont. Problem is, the window of opportunity is tiny, lasting two weeks at most, if it comes at all.

    Hooray for early blooming tulips! And your blog!

  10. Beautiful and thoughful prose. March is our angry month in North Carolina where the weather can be unpredictable and the tempertatures can drop and rise at a whim. Once April settles in, we are pretty consistent.

    I enjoyed the time-lapse tuplip.

  11. I really enjoyed your essay. Very well written and enjoyable. The images were a treat day by day to see the tulip open on Sunday. Loved your post today.

  12. klbrowser--I had no idea that SD even had sugar maples! You must go pretty quickly from freezing to roasting--it's the daily freeze/thaw cycle (as I understand it) that gets the right kind of sap flowing.

    lifeshighway, thank you, and thank you for visiting! Your angry month is almost over--enjoy April!

    Donna, thanks--glad you enjoyed it.

  13. Oh, Stacy, Your writing is like an elixir . . . one that is made from the most carefully grown and hand picked herbs. You have a gift! Spring is surely a verb . . . and once again you bring me to a way of thinking where I had not been before. No season is a verb as much as spring and perhaps fall in a different direction. It is lovely to see your tulip becoming . . . expanding and opening . . . perfect illustrations to complement your windy study of change . . . of action within moments and landscapes.