Archive for springtime

A Writer’s Garden

This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.

I was home for a short week between book tour traveling, and the main thing I realized was how delicious it felt to be home for spring.

The more common wish in America is to be “home for Christmas.” But Maryland’s shining moment is spring. It is a long, fruitful, blossoming season. It starts in February with crocuses, continues with daffodils and forsythia and hellebores in March, rises to tulips, azaleas, plum and cherry trees in April, and rioting roses everywhere in May and June. Maryland is not one of those places that suddenly switches to summer—it’s a very slow, enjoyable process, whether the plants are native or adopted.

It is fun for a garden enthusiast to spot gardens in  Arizona, California, Wisconsin and Washington, but I feel an urgency to get back to my ragged garden, which is only growing more outspoken every day. My husband only has so many hours in his day, so I sent out an SOS for help. I was very lucky to find a local gardener to take care of the six or so old rose bushes in the back and also attack the weeds. So when I come home, I feel pleased, rather than defeated.

During my time home I also did a lot of daily writing. It’s inevitable that these two loves, garden and book, coincide in the spring.

I believe a lot of writers like to garden. Tending flowers and writing books are quiet, meditative processes that each involve creation and reshaping. Both are hard and take years to get results. And often, an interest in gardens can begin no matter what kind of place you grew up in, because of books.

Did you read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett? I read this famous 1910 serial-turned-novel set in Yorkshire when I was a third grader living in snowy Minnesota. My mother had not yet started her odyssey into passionate gardening, so I knew nothing about gardens except for being charmed by the wildflowers that edged our paths, and climbing the sprawling old apple tree with bird-pecked fruit to read a book. I probably read The Secret Garden in that tree.

Many years later, I live in my own old house on almost an acre, which is a big lot for a house inside the city. In a few ways, it is similar to the garden experience of the fictional Mary Lennox. One certainly has to chop, tear and pull what is overgrown, but then come surprising discoveries.

Here’s one. Under a rectangular expanse of weeds that rise to happy heights every summer, there is an actual cement floor about twenty feet long by ten feet wide. It’s likely that it once was the foundation for a garage. And there are neatly paved paths throughout the garden, mostly covered by a thin layer of earth and lovely moss.

I love the moss and plants that belong to Maryland. The native plant garden I put in three years ago in the front of the house is growing so vigorously that birds have decided to secret themselves in a thicket of four-foot-high black-eyed Susans (which won’t flower until August). Daisy, the little Yorkie-Cairn terrier who lives with us, realizes the birds like to go there, so the rudbeckia forest has become her number one spot for exploration every time she goes out. As Daisy charges in, there is an explosion of feathery action. So far, nobody’s been caught!

During the brief time I was home, I worked on Perveen 3 in fresh air with the sun on my face. This is entirely possible because we have an outdoor sort of room on two sides of our houses: screened porches attached to bedrooms, in the event it is too hot to sleep inside.

I have seen photos of old sleeping porches fitted out with enough cots so the whole family could sleep in air that finally turned cool. I imagine all the story telling that went on, finally quieting down so the go-to-bed soundtrack would be left to the crickets. In those days, there might have been a nighttime call from a train, not drag-racing cars. And the wake-up alarm would have been birds.

Writing on our second floor porch is a sacrosanct ritual starting every May that lasts through September. I’ve set my porch with a vintage wicker chaise for reading and sleeping, a table for eating and writing, and a cheap old desk that faces tall trees where I stare at squirrels when I’m bored. The dogs stay with me, looking down two stories to the lane behind the house. They enjoy the power that comes with being high up and feel invincible from the wrath of those they bark at.

When I first moved into my Baltimore home, a few people suggested glassing in the sleeping porches in order to have more bathrooms. The suggestion was never taken seriously. I would never want to lose the joy of being outside-in that the porch provides. I hope whoever takes over the house after I’m gone feels the same.

The East Coast’s Steamy Springtime

This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.

T-shirt weather in February!

“Want to go for a walk?”

My daughter surprised me with this request last week. During the Baltimore winter, nobody in the family walks together—even the dog doesn’t want to be out more than five minutes.

While Maryland winters are not fierce like the seasons I spent in Minnesota, they are still cold. There are always a few snowfalls and a cold wind blowing off the Atlantic. The difference between winter in Maryland and other places is that the damp wind can chill you to the bones. February is a good month for making soup.

It certainly hasn’t been the usual kind of February. Last December, meteorologists predicted this would be another warm winter, just like 2016. The forces at work were an especially strong El Nino wind and an Arctic Oscillation, a stream of winds above Canada and Alaska that has chosen to trap the cold weather far to the north of us. The US Geological Survey says spring arrived to the Washington DC area 22 days early.

I’m not ready to say that we are in spring (official date of Spring Equinox is March 20). In Baltimore—an hour’s drive from DC—this winter brought only a slight, powdered-sugar style dusting of snow: less than an inch. The mountainous areas in Western Maryland where people ski had a tremendous melt of the small amount of snow that fell.  The ski resorts are all but closed up for the season, when they ordinarily would have had business for at least another month. It’s weird. Just like the active calls of birds to each other, seeking mates, just a little bit too early.

When I say this is a hot winter, I mean that it’s been like California on many days. My husband, perhaps out of loyalty to his birthplace, says it’s a “New Orleans winter.” Instead of the typical temperatures in the 30s, it’s been in the 60s and 70s Fahrenheit for many days in the past weeks. It reached 77 last Friday when I went walking with the dog and my daughter. At Johns Hopkins, the school set up signs encouraging students to practice mindfulness while outdoors. The staff arranged beach chairs to encourage meditating in nature, but the Hopkins students seemed more intent on getting to class.

No time to sit and sun oneself at Hopkins!

Daffodils springing up at Johns Hopkins Homewood campus

For me, the national news has been so chilling, that the warm weather gives me a sort of fragile happiness—the feeling that life still is good. Walking in nature is good for mental health, as well as physical.

I invited my husband to walk with me last Sunday afternoon and we took a 45 minute stroll through the neighborhood. Crocus in February are par for the course. However, we saw sights we would normally not see for a month: magnolia trees in bud, and pink hellebores in bloom. I planted a few hundred bulbs in my own garden around Thanksgiving week, and they are starting to show their faces. That seems hardly enough time underground to get their roots established.

Magnolia buds

Hellebores

Apparently Japanese apricot trees and some early-blooming cherry trees are already in flower. I’m worried that a cold snap will kill the display; just as I feel nervous for any birds laying eggs. I also wonder what might happen if birds and rabbits decide to procreate early. Could their eggs survive a freeze?

Well-naturalized crocuses

My fingers are crossed that the steamy early spring will not lead to a silent spring later on.