When we first moved to Meadow Knoll, 25 years ago, I began planting daffodils along the eastern edge of the woodlot, where we can see them from the house. We were just starting out as writers, and I couldn't afford to buy very many--a dozen or two every year was my limit. But they multiplied, as flowering bulbs do, and this morning, from my studio window, I can see a lovely sweep of gold and white among the gray trees. Beauty times beauty. What more can we ask of the world we inhabit?
I love them because they're beautiful, yes--don't you? But I think we also treasure these spring flowers--daffodils, crocus, hyacinths--because they show themselves at the bleakest moment in our changing year: the days when we think we just can't abide another gray, wintry day. Here in the Texas Hill Country, I start glimpsing the daffodils' green spears in late January and their blooms, like tiny suns scattered among the brown leaf-litter, in mid-February, when I'm eager for all the green I can get. This year, there are fewer, because of the long drought of 2007-2009 that reduced their numbers, but that doesn't make them any less beautiful.
But I also love these flowers because I believe they will come again, every year. This year, and next, and the year after that, I believe I'll see daffodils in February, that the hummingbirds will arrive around the fifteenth of March, and that the monarchs will be sailing through our woods not long after, on their way north from Mexico. The bluebonnets will bloom in mid-April, and the scarlet paintbrush and blackfoot daisy. And in June and July, the meadows will be golden with coreopsis and yellow primrose and sunflowers.
At least, that's the way it has been. But our use of fossil fuels is changing the climate and modifying the seasons. If you're a ragweed sufferer, you probably already know that the ragweed season is growing longer. If you've been reading about climate change, you know that the Southwestern United States will be drier and hotter in the coming years, which will change the bloom periods of many of our Hill Country wildflowers. There are fewer monarch butterflies now, because they are affected by herbicides, genetically-modified plants, and habitat destruction. And so on and so on, sadly, sadly.
But knowing about the fragility of our changing planet only sharpens the pleasure I take in daffodil season, and in all the seasons, as they pass. Each blossom is precious to me, each green leaf spear, each redbird with his hopeful song of cheer-cheer-cheer, each floating monarch, each brave bluebonnet, each glorious sunflower. "Oh world," I say with Edna St. Vincent Millay, "I cannot hold thee close enough!"
And what I know about our world only intensifies my resolve to live as lightly as I can in it, and to write and talk about the challenges we face as the global economy moves toward Peak Oil and we are all confronted by the need to adapt to a changing climate, since the world's governments seem unable to take any serious action to reduce atmospheric carbon. Every daffodil, every monarch, every hummingbird: each and all are reminders of the beauty and diversity we may lose. "Oh world, I cannot hold thee close enough"--but we all need to find ways to live that hold the world close without destroying it.
And to that end, I've been busy with gardening work. Three years ago, I built raised beds and fenced the vegetable garden to keep the deer and rabbits at bay. Now, the spring greens--lettuce, spinach, kale, chard--are coming up, as are carrots and radishes. The peas are flourishing, and I'll plant more today. I potted up my tomato seedlings (Porter and Small Fry) and planted peppers, eggplant, and basil in seed trays. The potatoes I planted two weeks ago (pre-sprouted) are pushing up green leaves, and we're eating spinach from last year's fall crop, wintered over. We're still eating sweet potatoes from last summer's crop, too, and pecans from Bill's trees. Dessert last night: sweet potato and pecan pie. "Oh world, I cannot hold thee close enough..."
Reading note: To inhabit a place means literally to have made it a habit, to have made it the custom and ordinary practice of our lives, to have learned how to wear a place like a familiar garment, like the garments of sanctity that nuns once wore. The word habit, in its now-dim original form, meant "to own." We own places not because we possess the deeds to them, but because they have entered the continuum of our lives.--Paul Gruchow