Dogwood Winter

This spring is a bit out of control, too early, too much, too warm too soon. The last few days we’ve had a cooler spell here in New York, which reminded me of the “winters” Mother taught me about.

Spring in Tennessee normally comes in an orderly, predictable fashion. Usually it starts in February with the forsythia and crocuses blooming. By March spring is well under way, with gradually warmer periods interspersed with cool spells. The redbuds bloom, then the dogwoods. Finally, in April the blackberry bushes flower.

Cool spells tend to come right when these bloom, and apparently this was always so. Mother and my aunts and uncles all referred to “redbud winter,” “dogwood winter,” and “blackberry winter” as if these were known dates on the calendar. I suppose to a farming community they nearly were.

I guess this is dogwood winter we’re having now in New York, if such a thing exists up here. Everything is out of sync this year. The Bradford pears (stinky, showy things) burst into bloom two weeks ago, along with the Japanese magnolias, which were nipped by the cold and have turned brown. Yet the dogwoods have not bloomed. So I hope they were spared the cold and will open soon.

Sometimes I feel very far from the farm. I’m glad to be working with my brain instead of my back, and God help anyone who had to depend on me to raise food! But I miss the patterns of planting, cultivating, and harvesting. There’s no seasonality to working on a computer. But even here spring intrudes, bursting out along the parkways, in yards, in the scattering of woods.  It’s time to think about planting.  It’s time to grow.

Ice Storm

This winter has been very mild so far, except for a weird October snowstorm.  I’m not sure why I’ve been remembering the ice storms of my Tennesee childhood.  Maybe my sister Sherrie sparked the memories with her account of a storm a few weeks ago on their farm.

Snow was rare where I grew up, and always the occasion for celebration.  I got out my sled, and Daddy played with me as the runners sank into wet slush.  Ice storms were more common.  Rain would begin to freeze, then coat trees, roads and the ground with a glittering layer.  When the sun came out the next day, everything sparkled.  The reflected light was almost blinding.

Often the ice on the road would cause school to be cancelled, since the school buses couldn’t run safely on their long routes through the country.  There weren’t any snowplows or salt trucks, so we had to wait for the ice to melt before school could resume.

Sometimes the ice would be heavy enough that tree branches would break and fall on the power lines.  If the power was out in many places it could be days before it was restored.  The poor folks who went through this after the October snowstorm here know what that is like.  We had resources on the farm, however, that made a couple of days of ice storm aftermath seem like a holiday to me.

Daddy hooked up a generator to the freezer so our frozen food wouldn’t spoil.  We had a wood-burning stove in the garage, which never had a car in it, so the garage functioned as a den.  Mother cooked on top of the stove, which can’t have been fun for her, but I thought it was great.  She even allowed my dog to come into the garage, when normally he was banished to his doghouse.  Often my aunts and uncles on the main road would get their power back faster, so we were invited for lunches and dinners with them.  Afterwards they would all play Rook, the only card game they were allowed as young people and still their favorite, and laugh and talk.

Two days was about my limit, however.  After that I really wanted to be back in school with my friends since none of them lived nearby.  But a couple of days off with my aunts and uncles, and time to read all I wanted to, was a real treat.