Early spring

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

A midwinter night’s dream. Could have happened any year ...

Aaaaahhh. The sound of contentment. The sound of a woman who has tasted the fruits of her labors. Literally.

In a pragmatic moment, I dug up a couple of the beds in my vegetable garden and planted seeds: Bibb lettuce, spinach, and turnip greens. Then I went into the house, closed the door, and scarcely thought about it again.

You know I am a fool for the siren song of a warm day in early spring when forces beyond my control propel me to scratch and plant once more. It’s too early — I know that — but we’re talking about mindless compulsion here.

Walking up the driveway for the paper, I discovered a day balmier than the chilly indoor temperature had led me to imagine.

To the garden I marched, grabbing on the way my basket of hand-tools and work gloves, tossing in the portable phone, my trusty binoculars, and seeds I had stored in the fridge. The garden tools were waiting for me, leaning against the trees next to the garden gate (a sore point with Dave, that caretaker of all things mechanical).

Soon I was at work.

It took two more trips into the house for water: ice for me, a bowl to soak the snow peas, and to change into a short-sleeved shirt. Oh, and the radio, of course; this was a Saturday and the Met was doing Verdi.

Now I was at work.

I practice the square-foot gardening method described in one of the Rodale books. My plot is tiny, surrounded by a board fence to which Dave stapled chicken wire to foil the friendly rabbit who visits each spring. Just inside the fence an 18-inch border holds snow peas, cucumbers, pole beans — whatever will benefit from the support the fence offers — then six 3-by-3-foot squares in the middle.

I dig them deep and thoroughly once a year; in between times they open easily with a few chops of the hoe. The winter’s covering of leaves gets raked into the narrow walkways to form a mat.

I got the peas in, late, I admit — they could have been in weeks ago this mild season. To my delight, there were enough turnip greens to cut for dinner tomorrow, and enough lettuce and dark green spinach leaves to fill a bowl for salad today.

The parsley in the corner yielded a generous bundle of curly leaves. I’d forgotten I had left Swiss chard and a late row of green onions — they also went into the bowl.And a number of chive plants had wandered from their assigned places. Their tops went into the salad and their roots back in line with their fellows.

By now, my anticipation of the First Spring Salad was mounting. I wandered out of the garden fence and into the No Man’s Land behind our property, and discovered that the violets for which I looked in vain just two days earlier now carpeted the ground. In a few moments I had a handful, flowers and leaves, plus a very tender young dandelion I knew would still be mild and tasty raw.

I smiled, thinking of a young friend who shakes her head in disbelief at my grazing habits. Then I shook mine, remembering our meal together at Blimpie’s the evening before, when I thought, At last, I’m going to see a small salad in the guise of sandwich fixings pass this anti-vegetarian’s lips.

Ha. She ordered her sandwich with oregano, oil and vinegar only. No lettuce, onions, or tomatoes. Not even a pickle. I’m sure when she realizes oregano is a plant, she’ll never order it again.

Earlier in the day, I had grabbed my glasses to watch a red-shouldered hawk trying to get into a thermal over the pond — his cry and the agitation of the crows had seized my attention.

Now a silent shadow passed over me. Hearing no airplane, I looked up and saw the hawk gliding into a tree beyond the cart path.

Break time. I walked down the hill to get a better look at this handsome visitor, as he craned his neck watching for his own late lunch to come by.

A sapsucker ignored him and hitched on up a pine tree. I was grateful our wren family — already hatched — was safe under the overhang at our front door.

Peas, spinach, lettuce, and carrots planted, I gathered my early crops and headed into the house. The salad was divine, violet faces peering through my favorite lemon, garlic, and olive oil dressing, with homemade croutons. I had two big bowls of it, a cup of herb tea and a brownie.

My shoulders are sore from unaccustomed work, my hands dry despite soothing lotion.

But the sky is streaked with crimson and mauve, garlic lingers on my tongue, and the earth promises more than I deserve.

Life is good.

[Sallie Satterthwaite has been a columnist for The Citizen since the first issue in February 1993.]

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