I walk out to the back garden and look at the ground with some expectancy -- more like fingers-crossed hope for a longshot mircle than real expectation, to be honest -- for the first time in months. For one thing there hasn't been any ground to look at. This is the first weekend since the "wicked stawm" of early February without some new snow, and last week's weather of rain on and off, cloudy days and occasional sun periods, and daytime temperatures over freezing has whittled down the snow blanket to a few angry and resentful hold-out piles where prople piled it up at the edge of the sidewalk during the initial struggle to find their way from their house to their car.
Things have changed on the ground since the blizzard of Feb. 8-9 zipped a thick white seal over the ground. The snow has been looking down in the mouth all week.
We noticed it one evening glowering under a stoplight on Newport Avenue, a crowded intersection where the trekkers to the subway station compete with the vans restocking the Chinese stores.
"Once you feared me!" Old Snow said, shaking its fist. "Now you walk past without even a cursory nod or stray curse. You think your snowplows and pitiful little red shovels and the endless swish-swish of your caravans of oversized vehicles have defeated me?"
Well, I think something has.
"But it's not you -- it's earth!" The voice of Old Snow insists. "And what earth has taken away, she can restore in time."
Yeah, Yeah, I mutter. Have you taken a look at the calendar?
"Fear me still!" Snow growled and glowered, little bits of unidentifiable blackness, the residue of urban time, sprinkled on its crystallized surfaces like sprinkles of grit on a truckful of refrozen vanilla ice cream cones dumped in a gutter. Let's face it, Old Snow was looking horrible.
"Hear me!" Old Snow spat with rancor. "I swear I will be back and you mortals will be singing another tune. Remember those back-ache blues?"
Who can argue with that?
Nevertheless, since Old Man Snow was clearly on the run, and since I had put on boots to attempt a walk in the woods, I stepped around back to check out the lay of the land. Some patches of snow still hung on, particularly the strips where my footsteps packed it down on occasional trips to dump the compost pail into the compost bin. A few other low spots still have their gluey, partially-frozen furze of snow.
I go back almost to the fence looking for rumors of spring from the Lenten Rose plant that grows under the big maple tree out back, in shade even in the summer. The flowers poke out this time of year, as I know from last year's experience when I took their picture when the calendar still read February.
When the blossoms first appear the outside layers of the flower are exactly the same shade of pale green as the leaves of the plant (Helleborus Orientalis). Then the flowers on this plant turn a very innocent pure white color, Lenten still. Clearly, aspects of their character are concealed by this color, since they are a tough breed of green plant to bloom this early in a temperate climate.
But as I learn this year when I find them, they don't bloom in snow, or under it. The plants are there, the leaves are there; they look fine. But no flowers; no buds.
I planted a second Lenten Rose in an even tougher place for finding sun on the west side of the house where a big granite stone path holds down the earth and creates a border opportunity, but one well shaded by the house. Some things get going here after a few years; some go on struggling. This Helleborus specimen had a surprise for me last year: dark pink flowers, same shape as the white ones, but striving toward red. Just a few, but beautiful.
Hear me, Old Snow! True, you have held us back this year, and my hopes for February have drawn a blank.
But I'm not giving up on the Lenten Rose yet.
It's still four weeks to Easter.