My first act of gardening this spring was to prune an apple tree. Late in the month of March before the snow and slush made it’s last hurrah, I visited my friend Valerie’s back yard to get her apple tree cleaned up in time for the growing season. Valerie and I paced back and forth around the tree spying branches to cut back. We worked for about a half hour to remove any branches that were rubbing each other, as well as any branches that were crisscrossing the canopy of the tree, or too tall for us to reach with a ladder. By the time we were done the tree had a shape that could be likened to a wine glass, which should make the fruits on this producing creature even more accessible for Valerie and her grandkids.
Even before this early gardening trip, I was noticing the first signs of spring pushing out of the gardens, yards, and parks in the city. Plantings along the South sides of buildings are among the first to wake up in the urban environment. After that comes the forming maple buds that mark the clear blue sky with thousands of tiny red and yellow dots, and with them a flurry of winged activity in the tree tops. Vibrant male cardinals, as loud visually as they are vocally are easy to pick out on the bare branches of neighborhood trees. Mallard ducks can be seen flying overhead in pairs throughout the day. The colorful world seems to be stretching and yawning, waking itself from the long white dream called winter.
Now that the snow is gone, I’ve been a busy gardener. It feels therapeutic to peel back the layer of hay that protected the plants from the drying winter air, winds, and sun. This layer of winter mulch caught all the garbage, salt, and leaves that was thrown or blew on it throughout the cold months. As I pull off the spent dirty hay to bring it to compost I think of how it can be helpful for all kinds of creatures, to peel off the protective layers that they build around themselves in this stressful world. The farm compost that I layer on top of the freshly raked gardens dress them up just as much as it promises to re-invigorate their soils for another season of growth. I love a good metaphor and there’s nothing like spreading a healthy layer of shit around a garden to remind me that if we allow it to compost and change, all the shit that we create together will eventually settle in to make us healthier and stronger then before we made it. At least I really hope this concept applies to gardeners as much as to gardens.
While I’ve been out in the backyard or over at the Co-op gardening I've had plenty of breaks in the raking and shoveling due to all the folks that stop by to visit. You’ll get no complaints from me about these welcome interruptions. Talking with passing friends and neighbors I can see moments of vibrancy that remind me of the cardinals and maple buds in the tree tops. Like the bulbs and perennials slowly pushing out of the ground until you can hardly even imagine a world where they didn’t cast a proud shadow, the folks in this city emerge in the spring warmth from beneath thick winter layers to show the world their own vibrant colors.