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Spring whispers to me through a winter day

By Terry Miller Shannon / March 5, 1999



There's a word for this winter-rainy Northwest day. That word is "sullen." It describes the lead-gray sky pressing down upon us. It describes the fire smoldering in the hearth, mysteriously seeming to suck every bit of warmth out of the bleak, dank room. But most of all, it describes my spirit. I stare longingly out the window at the frost-wilted princess tree, at the bare brown flowerbeds. I try to believe that not so very long ago I was outside in the sunshine, inhaling the fragrance of rosemary and lavender, and picking a nosegay of penstamon and anemones. My mind remembers it, but my heart has forgotten it.

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Speaking of fragrances, I'm yanked rudely into the kitchen by the rank, ripe smell of rotting garbage. A milk carton, heaped with browning banana peels, onion skins, and broccoli ends reproaches me. Last summer, the one I'm struggling to recall, my husband built me my heart's desire: a compost bin. All summer and fall, I delighted in my daily trip down the hill to dump the garbage on the pile.

But that was then, this is now. Now the wind slashes rain against the windows. I shiver. I don't, in the worst way, want to go out in that. But one thing's plain (and I may embroider it on a sampler, yet): The Compost Pile Waits for No Woman.

So, reluctantly, I gear up in a heavy rainproof (although nothing really is, here) coat with a hood that covers most of my face, and heavy black boots. I snatch the milk carton and shut the door behind me, a little harder than necessary.

The wet slaps me in the face like the tail of a fish. It steals my breath and tears at my milk carton. I gasp and pull my hood so low over my eyes that I can barely see, and slip and stumble down the driveway. My garbage spills, and I crouch, buffeted by the lashing storm.

And there, not two feet from me, is a yellow crocus, and behind it, a purple one, each satin tube swelling and loosening, preparing to open. Deep, deep within me I feel a similar softening. I glance up to see an iridescent green hummingbird hunkered on a fir branch, sheltered against the tree's trunk. He doesn't seem as surprised to see me as I am to see him.

I walk down to fling my garbage on the compost pile. On the way up the hill, I taste the sweetness of the sharp, sodden wind. Tender green daffodil leaves poke through the grass, some showing yellow buds. The blossom of one azure dwarf iris valiantly reflects the summer sky present this morning only in my imagination. A maroon-and-orange salamander stalks across my path, a miniature dinosaur on a mission.

BACK at the front door, I stop with the cold doorknob clutched in my even-colder fist. Why go in now? I certainly couldn't get any wetter.

And so I slosh on through the yard, leaning against the wind and discovering more winter joys: a witch hazel sporting pale-yellow pompoms of blossoms, with a brisk citrusy scent. Black-eyed juncos feasting at the suet cake. The tiniest unfurling of pale green at the tips of the alder's branches. One lone azalea blooms brilliant red against the gray. A blue jay scolds me shrilly from high within the wildly whipping branches of a cedar. "What are you looking at?" he seems to ask. "What's to see?"

This is what I see, I tell him silently. I see winter on the wane, slowly but surely counting down to spring. I see that I will, someday, kneel again in my flowerbed with a shawl of sunshine upon my shoulders and the scent of rosemary so sharp I taste it. I see sprouting, crawling, flying irresistible life, undeterred by the weather.

But mostly what I see is that there's glory to be found even in a sullen winter's day.