It is early March. I sat on a friend’s sofa the other evening as this cold weather moved in. The front of her home is shaped like the bow of a great ship. A large structure of windows looking over that side of the woods that surround the house. Here it falls away from the deck outside the windows down to a creek crossed on your way up the drive. The solid, unwavering grey that had been the sky all day was breaking up to reveal the individuality of the clouds scudding by. One particularly dark and large, my friend wondered if it held snow. The weather had been unseasonably warm all week. I saw daffodils in bloom while driving around town. And the beginning color on the forsythia. Now the possibility of snow was in the forecast with what this wind was bringing. The trees were in concert with it, swaying one to the other, the long, tall trunks bending deeply and far. Displaying the fluidity that is natural to them, but which we forget about, always thinking them stone-solid instead. We sipped wine and talked all while watching the woods dance. It was beautiful.
For the two days since the sky has been clear blue, at night the moon just past full shines in the windows and the stars are bright. In the morning there is frost on the exposed places. The warm sun on the chill air pulls my mind into the garden. I want to be in it doing something. There is plenty late winter clean up for me: cutting back, pruning, cleaning out, trimming and hauling away. But it is planting I want. The day began with this idea of sowing seed but came to be full of fits and starts, priorities and hurdles. By three nothing was accomplished and the sun-filled day felt squandered. And so I tugged on my Bogs boots and stood staring at the small vegetable plot laying fallow under thick straw.
In a few weeks I will be scraping a flat-bottomed trough about five feet long to toss snow peas in. I take the time to separate any that fall too close to another before covering all with a few inches of soil. In early years I foraged the garden for tree and shrub trimmings, shoving their ends in with the seeds to make a row of “pea brush”. The vines scrambled up through the intertwining branches in a pleasant, old-fashioned way. Now I, a more seasoned gardener, secure a bamboo trellis that opens the entire length of the planting with tall stakes for the plants to clamber over. There have been a few years when the ground was too wet to dig, yet not so sodden to cause the seeds to rot. I threw the wrinkled peas on the ground then simply pushed them in with my fingers. The peas did not seem to notice and grew just as well.
Today it is time to decide where that pea trough will be and where its shadow will lay. For this usually determines where the lettuce goes. Someplace it will get enough sun to grow in the cold season it prefers, and then has enough shade to keep it cool as summer comes on. I am not a good vegetable gardener. I take far too long and put more thought than is necessary into such simple things as lettuce sowing. But that is okay, for right now it is more about the process of doing than the success of any harvest that may come. It may yet be too cold to be planting them outside and they may not grow. An article I read showing gorgeous head lettuces said they grow best planted in outside pots after “all danger of frost is past”. That is over a month away. I cannot wait and so will ignore all of that advice. The seed packets all say to “direct sow as soon as the soil can be worked”. That is now. I grabbed a cultivator and cleared a space, loosening the dark dirt freed from its cover of straw. It is fine and crumbly. Tomorrow I will plant some lettuce.