There is some dispute around our farm and in the family as to whether January is the grimmest month to get through or February. January tends to be a grey month, warmth locked far away in the ground, frozen snow crusted on the fields, the clouds lid locked over the lake. Not much to do but stay in and work, and for relief, look at gardening catalogues and go for walks, but even walks are a challenge when the snow is crusted and frozen.
I teach online, and I always have stacks of writing and reading to do, so in many ways I welcome winter and semi-solitude it brings. I think writers are fortunate. We are never without something that needs doing. When I talked to my cousin Kerrie, a rancher in Alberta, this fall, she said winters were difficult for her and her husband. Not much to do but feed the stock and plow the driveway. Her husband watched a lot of football and she had various hobbies but winters can be hard for farmers who want to be out and doing. I can’t imagine spending my winter watching television.
February around here is a bit easier since we tend to get some days when it is warm enough to go out and rake the sawdust, prune fruit trees, light a fire. But February is also a tease, warm one day and frozen the next and it drives people crazy. It’s the curse of anticipation and thinking that any day now it will be spring. It’s warmer, but not warm enough. March is when planting in the greenhouses begins but we can’t really garden, can’t actually get digging, raking and planting until the middle of April.
But that doesn’t stop us dedicated gardeners from getting together to go over seed catalogues together. Last year several of us had a seed catalogue afternoon, where we all brought our collected seed catalogues and made lists (not orders yet) of things we might want to grow. An imaginary garden is much easier than a real one.
Gardening is always one of those activities (the opposite of writing) that begins in order and hope and descends quickly into chaos. On the other hand, it is pretty much simplicity itself. Given warmth, light and nutrition, things will grow.
But they have their quirks. I love the fact that there are several happy volunteer wild cherry trees on the farm growing under cedar trees, where no gardener in his or her right mind would ever plant them. Every year, flowers fail where they should flourish and flowers I’ve neglected thrive or bloom on their own in the ‘wrong’ place. Vegetables that should be productive fail, like the giant broccoli plants I grew one year, healthy plants, no broccoli. The pigs loved them.
Last year, the peas and beans, which are normally productive, were eaten off to the root by deer and never recovered. I love the idea of a farm at peace but there are too many deer and not enough predators. I’m cheering for the cougars this winter.
Right now, when the dogs and I go for walks, I can see what they smell, a mosaic of tracks overlaid, deer and coyotes, mice and squirrels, and at the beach, duck tracks that end in spots of blood and wing brushes in the snow. Eagles harass the coots. Coyotes have scraped away the snow to get at mice in the long grass. I love my warm safe house. At night I close the curtains, open the computer and sail away. But in the afternoons, after a morning of teaching and writing, when it is time to go outside, I miss the garden.
But it will soon return.