Why is spring late this year? Because Earthman is on jury duty. Until he is acquitted, amd goes back to pushing the daffodils up and making the crocus bloom, here are his thoughts on spring from his new book, "The Essential Earthman," published by the University of Indiana Press.
WHEN WE COMPLAIN of weather we are always on firm ground. It is not imagination or idle dreaming; there is excellent reason for complaint. This time of year, a day may bring temperatures of 90 or 25. You never know.
The gardener knows those early April days when the air is soft, the sun not too bright, and the thermometer at 63. There have been soft rains, there is little wind. The gardener thinks such weather is his right, this time of year. If a wind of 72 miles an hour follows a cold snap and the temperature shoots to 83, followed by hail, he is fit for the madhouse and really should be safely stashed away there for a few days. And yet such weather is not only normal but inevitable--if not this year, then next. Nothing in the natural world is "always reliable."
One thinks, "Well, at least the lilacs are always on time and always good," but there are years they all freeze. There are years the irises do not bloom at all. There are years the roses are blown right off their stems, and years the chrysanthemums are frozen dead just as they come into bloom. If you think of it, most of us garden on land where things have been planted pretty steadily for a couple of centuries, and it would be a paradise by now except for disasters along the way.
The first time a storm rips all the peonies to pieces--the gardener has waited two years and done a good bit of scratching about with wood ashes and has chopped out tree roots and has set up stakes--the pain is severe. Within a few years, however, the gardener begins to realize there has never yet been a single year in which everything did well. And (usually after 40 years or so) he notices that no year is without some special splendor. Most of us can remember years when the irises were unearthly in their perfection, day after day of flawless flowers. I have seen two such years myself in the past 43.
I remember one year the daffodils reached such glory that almost any one in the garden would win a blue ribbon. One year. Once the trout lilies outdid themselves. Several times, the azaleas had no blemish anywhere. The gardener, naturally, remembers those years and is in a snit for decades afterward if the insolent wind presumes to blow. He remembers the year it didn't.
It is amazing to me that nurseries, without any exception I can recall, send dormant blueberry plants at the end of two weeks of perfect planting weather. The plants arrive (nurseries are especially clever at timing deliveries when one is out of town) just before the temperature soars to 80, with plenty of wind. Or, sometimes, just before the sleet storm.
The truth is, of course, that there is no day of the early spring that is safe. Usually, after the gardener has carried on a good bit and made life miserable for a number of people, the weather settles back and the gardener stops hollering everything is going to die. But already I dread those terrible days in May when torrents will fall and it will get cold and raw. How gross and clumsy Nature is. How ill-planned and slipshod. On the other hand, who could stand a really revolting climate, like southern California or the South Sea islands? Lucky is the gardener who has learned firsthand and early that Nature is outrageous everywhere and, as the schoolteacher said in one of Eudora Welty's novels, when the tornado headed for the schoolhouse and she had to think of something quick, "We're in the best place right here."
Rumor, as we know, is almost the only home of truth.