How do I know? While visiting a friend this afternoon, I walked up to her front door along her brick sidewalk. I noticed that the snow was all gone on her 'south-ish' facing front yard and the sidewalk was bordered on each side by a narrow strip of bare dirt. As I looked and wondered what type of plants she used these beds to grow (flowers or vegetables or herbs or all three), I suddenly realized that I could smell DIRT - oh it was delicious, a true smell of spring, I breathed and breathed deep life-renewing breaths, feeling that smell just shoot through every cell of my body with a true wake-up call.
It won't be long now. We'll be starting our seeds in two weeks, after we get home from a trip to the sunny and warmer Southwest. No way do we want to burden a neighbor with the responsibility of checking on, watering, and keeping so many babies alive. Because we have a perennial plot in our community garden, we'll be able to get in early to finish any clean-up, see what is peeking up (like our garlic, maybe some rhubarb), see what is coming back to life (hopefully some of our kale plants were hardy enough to winter over, our strawberries), get the compost pile turned over, sifted, and ready to spread, get our wren house cleaned out and up, etc, etc, etc. Once gardening season starts, there are not enough daylight hours to do all that needs to be done, and all we want to do! Our hands, clothes, and shoes or boots are always dirty!
I cannot wait. In the early clean-up days before we start planting, we can still bring our dog Kaya and let her roam around smelling and chasing little critters (like the voles that were disturbed from their warm winter home when we turn the compost). She loves to lie in the dirt, warming her black fur in the sun, often just resting on her back with feet in the air. She is one happy old dog when she is with "her pack". I don't seem to have a photo of Kaya in our community garden, so here she is enjoying lying in our (resilient) herb garden at home last summer. :-)
There are so many ways to mark a new year, such as the traditional New Year's Day, birthdays, anniversaries, and the like. I know many cancer survivors who mark their year by the date of their cancer diagnosis, their surgery, bone marrow transplant, or the date that all treatment ended. In my case, I have so many of these types of anniversaries that I would get confused so have never used one of them as my "marker" for a new year.
Instead I just use Spring, with its myriad ways of hoping for it, looking for it, feeling it, and knowing it has finally arrived.
Since our days of graduate school at The University of Wisconsin-Madison back in the 70's, my husband and I have looked forward to March, when we would put enough gas in the car to leave campus and drive in the country, looking for migrating tundra (formerly called whistling) swans who had stopped for respite in flooded farmers' fields. Seeing them was my true sign that winter was ending and a new year was beginning with spring just around the corner, a tradition that we continued for years. Only recently have re-introduced trumpeter swans in our area of Michigan actually stayed around all winter on our river, so the anticipation of looking forward to finding swans as a sign of coming spring during the dreary month of March is now diminished.
I did not hear a robin singing this year before March 1, so I really had ample opportunity to enjoy our beautiful outside Christmas wreaths this year. However, they'll come down tomorrow. I should have done it today per family tradition (they come down on March 1 or the day I first hear a robin sing, whichever comes first), but I was sorting seed packages and doing other important things.
As other signs of spring today, I saw a family flying a kite in our neighborhood park this afternoon, definitely a sign of spring with the early March winds, plus I saw a dead skunk along the side of the road, again definitely a sign that winter is ending in the upper Midwest (now I'll have to start being careful again when I take Kaya for a night-time walk to make sure we avoid an "encounter" with strolling neighborhood skunks, which thankfully we have avoided since we adopted Kaya although other neighborhood dogs have not!). I also noticed that it was still light at almost 6:30 last night - yippee!
However, I think from now on, I will add the "first smell of dirt" to my mental list of marking another year. I am under no delusion that snow won't cover it up again this month, but after the next snow, comes the next thaw, and pretty soon we'll be able to dig in our dirt, put our hands in our dirt, that small section of precious soil on this planet that we cheerfully take direct and personal responsibility for not just conserving, but more importantly, repleting and rebuilding.
I'll end by sharing my favorite springtime quotation from one of my all-time favorite books, A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold. I re-read this book every year or so.
"One swallow does not make a summer, but one skein of geese, cleaving the murk of a March thaw, is the spring." (opening sentence to the March chapter)
Life doesn't get any better than this. Enjoy hoping for and watching spring unfold, first a peek or a petal at a time and then the final burst into full bloom while you also breath in the smells and get your hands dirty!
Diana Dyer, MS, RD