Springtime Days With the Family

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Which of the following is correct?

1.) Equinox: the two times each year (approximately March 21 and September 23) when the sun crosses the equator and day and night are of equal length.
2.) Equinox: a rare breed of farm animal which is a cross between a horse and ox; from the archaic term equine-ox.  

Yeah, that was ridiculously and silly of me, and childish too. The equinox has nothing to do with equines or oxen, or even spring chickens for that matter. The vernal equinox was Friday, and it signaled that spring had come to the Northern Hemisphere! Spring is my least favorite of the seasons, and I wasn’t giddy-up until now about its arrival. Ok, I swear I’ll quit horsing around now with the bad puns. But who doesn’t feel at least a little bit silly and giddy at the beginning of spring? I think more people anticipate the start of spring more than any other season; it’s the season of rebirth, and brings a renewed respect for the green earth around us. Doesn’t that make you want to jump for joy, (preferably in a mud puddle), and act like a child again?  

You wouldn’t know it’s spring by looking at my thermometer; it read 21 degrees Friday morning! We enjoyed some warm temperatures leading up to today though, and signs that spring had arrived were present everywhere. Like Punxsutawney Phil did last month, the crocus, glory-in-snow and daffodils stuck their noses out of the ground recently and sniffed the air – but unlike Phil, shadow or not – they found it to their liking, and decided to stay awhile.

The maples are budding, and will soon release a storm of pollen that’ll color everything yellow.  

The milder weather has brought the birds back to my feeder….and the squirrels too. Keith usually keeps the pole that the feeder sits on greased because those pesky squirrels have torn apart numerous feeders in the past. The grease must have worn off over the winter because they had no problem climbing the pole. They were fun to watch, actually; little acrobats that go through all kinds of antics to get at the food. But, sigh … Later, I noticed they’d chewed through the plastic part of the feeder … again. The new replacement feeder I bought the following day, is supposed to be squirrel-proof. We’ll see.

Pavement clear of winter’s snow and ice is a fresh canvas for sidewalk chalk graffiti. Shelby’s message on our back porch is a reminder that even during these tough economic times, you just have to take a break, and enjoy the day.

And that we did. Now, if only I can get that irritating song out of my head that’s been stuck there since she wrote the message.

Keith tended the firepit, burning the branches that blew down over the winter, saving a few choice ones so Quetta can still play “Stick”. He also cleaned and prepared his grill, readying it for the first steaks of the season. Mmmmm … the smell of steaks cooking outside … another sign warmer weather has arrived.  

And while there was a fire burning, steaks marinating, graffiti drawn, and sticks being chased, I … well … I played in the mud. Go ahead and laugh. Keith did.  Staring at the pile of concrete cinder blocks, I had a vision. The blocks were from retaining wall we buried last fall in our “Saving Grace” effort. While the majority of the wall was buried, the top layers were removed to allow for a gentle slope down to the ravine. I decided they’d make a good, basic framework for a set of steps leading down the hill.

I thought this would be the perfect time to start; because it’s mostly clay, I wanted to get the digging done before it dried to an impenetrable consistency. It wasn’t just soft though; the snow-melt and rain turned it to mucky mess. Up and down the hill I lugged those blocks, and set them in place. It had to be a quick process – if I stood in one place too long, I’d be stuck there. My aptly named Muck Boots made smucking sounds with each step I took.  

“You should see yourself,” laughed Keith. I looked down. My boots were covered in mud nearly up to my knees; my jeans and shirt only were only a little less splattered. My gloves … what gloves? You couldn’t even tell I had them on; it looked as if I’d dipped my hands in chocolate cake batter. I couldn’t see my face or hair, but I imagine they were streaked with mud, too.

Our new neighbors two houses down decided it was a good time to introduce themselves. First impressions are lasting impressions, but I’m sure they’ll see me looking much worse as the gardening season progresses. Spring is also the time to get reacquainted – and acquainted – with neighbors. The warmer weather brings everyone outside and they’ll stand, chatting while you work, offering suggestions. Sometimes they’ll even help implement those suggestions.

Sometimes I have too much help.

Our pup, Quetta (Key-tah), was no less muddy than I. She stuck her nose into everything I did, even helping dig the holes … mostly in places were I did not want holes dug. She inspected the wooden handles on the shovel and rake – and they met with her taste-tested approval.

While I was covered in mud, I decided to play some more. I moved two Michigan holly – in other parts of the country known as winterberry (Ilex verticillata), and starts from a yellow-twig dogwood from the creek bank onto the hill. The yellow-twig will root anywhere a branch meets with soil, and I had enough starts to make a good-sized bush. I did the same with Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica) – it spreads by runners; four shrubs were made from the fifty or so starts I got from one main bush. All should do well in the heavy soil and partial shade on the hill. If they don’t, or if the steps don’t compare with my vision once they’re complete – if my dream of rustic stairs leading down a woodland slope turns into a nightmare – I’ll just rip it out and start again.  

That is part of the beauty of a garden; it is ever-changing. Plants grow … or they don’t. Sometimes they grow more than we anticipate. They can always be moved to a more suitable site. “Permanent” features are never permanent; walkways can be redirected, potting sheds reconstructed to make them bigger, and cinderblock stairways can be dug out … providing the muck they were set in didn’t harden to a concrete-like consistency.  

But when all is said and done; when the day’s work is finished – nothing feels as good as resting in the warm spring sun.