Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Snow — just another spring ephemeral

A note: I wrote this for the March 8, 2004, edition of the late Minneapolis Observer, a short-lived newspaper that my husband and I used to publish. It's topicality is apropos this spring, while at the same time revealing how unusual it is even here in Minnesota to get this much snow this late in the season. Still, it's a reminder: it's all ephemeral, nonetheless. —Sharon

On Thursday, my friend Sandra was positively gleeful at the prospect of 6 inches or more of snow. She is an avid winter athlete and once cross-country skied on Theodore Wirth golf course after a particularly late April snowfall, much to the chagrin of the groundskeepers.

By March, my attitude toward winter is one of indifference. After 47 winters, I am no longer impatient for spring to begin—I know it will come soon enough. And I am no longer dismayed by late-season snowfalls, even after a long thaw has dangled the promise of an early spring only to snatch it away again. I know it won’t last.

I think of this snow as the first of the spring ephemerals. In gardening, we usually think of ephemerals as those early bloomers that disappear, leaves and all, once summer is underway: the bulbs we plant in fall; the woodland wildflowers that bloom before the trees leaf out, then retreat under the ground again.

But snow is one of these too. Consider how profoundly it transforms the landscape in winter—the mounds that turn our sidewalks into valleys, the mountains in the corners of parking lots, the bright white clingy coat that forces the arborvitae to bow down in homage to the forces of nature, the snow “flowers” on mugho pines. And then it all melts away. Vanishes. A re-creation of the great ice age, in mere months, and then nothing. I know I’m odd, but the whole transformation from winter’s snow-sculpted landscape to flat, muddy early spring—even before the greening of spring at its peak—fascinates me. Every year.

So as I went about my business on Friday while clumps of wet snow dropped heavily from the trees as frequently as the big sticky flakes fell from the sky, I was glad I didn’t have to look at the dirty grey-black patches of ice that had been everywhere and will be exposed again soon. We can put off cleaning the yard a little longer. I just discovered one of my boots has a leak but my wet foot doesn’t make me miserable because I’m distracted by the unfolding drama. I look around and marvel at a fleeting winter wonderland that soon will be no more.

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