Rites of Spring

I have a spring ritual. This ritual consists of eagerly, hungrily looking for any sign of spring in plant form (new leaves, flowers – especially flowers), and then announcing their arrival to anyone who’ll listen to me. If I’m walking outside with someone, I’ll make them stop to look at whatever it is I see. “Oh my god, look, leaves!” I have also been known to take pictures of my finds. Like this cherry tree  – the first to bloom in the city (according to my research) taken in early February.

I don’t know if I’ve been talking about this more than usual, or if I’m just more aware of people’s reactions, but I noticed this year that I was feeling less than satisfied by the responses I was getting. Like an itch on my back that I couldn’t quite find. In my world, the conversation should go like this: I say “Hey, I saw a daffodil on the way to work today!” and whoever I’m talking to (friend, colleague, stranger on the bus) is supposed to say “What?! A daffodil? Where?”. Then we have a long talk about the daffodil, wondering if it’s earlier than the other daffodils, speculate on the amount of sun it gets, and so on. But, for the most part, people I’ve shared this kind of information with have said “Huh”.

Which is really a pretty normal response. I mean, spring does happen every year. The leaves come out, flowers bloom, it isn’t news to anyone. But for some reason, I couldn’t help feeling like something was missing. Until last weekend when my boyfriend and I went to visit my Auntie F. We were all in the car, driving to her place, and I said something about a crocus I’d seen lately, and she said “Really? I haven’t seen any yet. I think I saw some snowdrops, but no crocuses yet. Where was it?” And that thing in me, that itch that hadn’t yet been scratched felt immediately relieved. I thought, “Oh, it’s a family thing.” No wonder no one else knew what to say to me.  Growing up, I remember my Mom pointing out the leaves and the first, brave green spears poking their points up through the snow. One of the stories that people tell about my Grandma is that she always used to go out walking in the spring, looking for the first crocus. It’s what we do.

The women in my family know the earth. My Grandma was a walking encyclopedia of flowers, leaves, and rocks. My mother and her generation all have gardens and can name pretty much any plant in their areas. Hikes or walks in a neighbourhood always include the naming of plants, “Oh, look at those irises”. If my mom or aunts see a plant they can’t name, they’ll go home to look it up in a book.

Since leaving home, I have lived in large cities. I’ve never had a garden, and I can name only the most obvious plant life. I observe the cycles of nature through the window. But in the spring, I gently touch buds, I sniff at early flowers; it’s the only time of year that I really pay attention, and the only time that I really have these conversations with my mom and the women in her generation. This ritual, finding new signs of life and bringing that news home like a prize is more than just pure hunger for summer. There is something so deeply satisfying about this exchange of information; the trading of flower names and whatever related knowledge we have. Through it, I somehow feel connected to my family, across generations, and through that, to the earth in a way that I otherwise don’t.

This has led me to think that I may need to make more space for gardening and earth-lore in my life at some point. Maybe some day I’ll have both the time and the physical space for a garden. Until then, I may pick up my copy of Plants of Coastal British Columbia that I found in a used book store last year. Otherwise, I’ll keep on glorying in the new daffodils, crocuses, tulips and cherry blossoms, and if we talk, expect me to tell you about them.

14 thoughts on “Rites of Spring

  1. I love this! I do this too! In fact just yesterday my children ran in the front door shouting for me to ‘come see!’ They had discovered the tips of tulips pushing through in our garden. This is terribly early for Calgary. In fact, it is so early that now we will spend the next few weeks watching the weather in hopes that there are no hard frosts to kill out newly discovered prize.

    It’s interesting to me that you link this to the women in your family. Like yours, my grandmother knew every plant. She gardened and could name all wild flowers. She knew the earth. As an adult and a mother I have done what I can to connect my daughters and myself to things that grow. We have a vegetable garden. We berry pick every year. We walk the ravine by our home and I point out the roses, wild lupins, vetch, sage, even the nettles, skunk cabbage and thistles. I feel so lucky to have daughters to share this with. It is about connecting generations.

    • Maybe it’s an Alberta thing! Although, I have a friend who has never lived in Alberta, and she does it too. So there are more of us than I thought!

      Oh, my heart just wants to burst out of my chest when you talk about your kids shouting at you to come see the tulip tips. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that the frost doesn’t get them!

      About women – is it because (maybe) the men farmed, and the women were the ones keeping the veggie gardens, and bringing flowers in to decorate the house? Is that why? My dad is an avid gardener, but he doesn’t quite do the same things – naming all the flowers on walks, and so on. I don’t know – of course generalizations always fall apart on the individual level, but there seems to be something about this somehow connected to femininity.

      I think it’s truly beautiful that you stay connected, and connect your daughters to the growing things. I feel so very touched by that.

      Happy spring!

      • I’ve thought about this too. My Grandparents were all like this. They depended on the earth for their livelihoods so their relationships with it were pretty different I think. I remember being astonished when on a family pilgrimage back to my Dad’s family’s farm he pulled over on the side of a gravel road to get out and inspect the grain by rolling it between his fingers. Having left the farm as soon as he was able to work in the city I didn’t realize there was still that knowledge in his mind. I got all excited about the blue flowers in my mountain yard in the spring and he said, “That’s flax.” Then shook his head and laughed, “City kid!”

        Still I learned more about nature than most kids do now! Just a few weeks ago I heard a story from a friend about a man at a conference who said he’d started taking the kids in his local school out to the beach near his home in California to see “green flash” over the ocean in the evening. (Sounds a bit like the northern lights to me.) After one such outing a boy thanked him enthusiastically, “I’ve NEVER seen that before,” he said. “Oh really? You’ve never seen those green lights, huh?” “No… I’ve never seen a real sunset.”

        And that connection between women and nature? I agree that generalizations fall apart on the individual level but I cannot help but wonder what our disconnection with the earth means for women. I’m treading dangerously close to flaky here because this is nothing more than the mysterious language of symbolism. But if nature, the earth, and the body itself are all associated with the feminine principle what does it mean when we become disconnected from them? When we stop using our bodies but can’t turn our minds off? When we can genetically alter crops but our children don’t know how food grows? When we define nature as a “resource”, in terms of its utility to society? Or when the first signs of spring are greeted with an indifferent shrug? Part of me feels like when I celebrate those first crocuses every spring it is like a little act of joyful protest!

  2. ‘I’m treading dangerously close to flaky here because this is nothing more than the mysterious language of symbolism. But if nature, the earth, and the body itself are all associated with the feminine principle what does it mean when we become disconnected from them? ‘

    Not flaky at all. And, yes, the ‘ birth of spring’ is symbolic but of course women posses the power of birth. Birth and regrowth are directly linked to the feminine. That being said, Blackberry and I come from families with strong matriarchal structures. Miss Lemon talks about her dad’s connection to the earth. I don’t think that this celebration of spring is limited to the feminine. I see it more of a passing of knowledge. It is one of the few places that we can still connect to past generations. What was necessity for our grandparents is novel for us. Novel, but still important.

    Does anyone else hate that there is no spell check on comments?

  3. My family were never people of this land. We were the kind of family that wouldn’t eat outside in the summer because there were bugs. We’d go to Banff and trawl the candy and souvenir shops. I read books in the summer hiding from the heat and the sun that would turn my skin a shade too dark. Occasionally, we’d go to the green house and buy marigolds that my father would plant in a plastic pot. He bought tulips once and planted them along the front walk (I was probably inside watching She-Ra princess of power). My father would talk about a little garden, but it was just talk. My knowledge of and interest in Mother Nature was entirely theoretical, learned via textbooks and science experiments (Would plants grow better if fed different things? Yes! 3rd place city wide science fair, 1987).

    And yet. When I spotted those tulips peeking out from the yard year after year, it was nothing short of miraculous. That something could live just on its own like that. Perhaps not having anyone to name or explain what nature was up to only heightened the magic. One year, I got down on my hands and knees because I thought there was something wrong. Something green was coming out of the ground! Don’t get me started when I’d come back from school and they’d suddenly bloomed!!! And then there were the crocuses. It was all about the crocus. Mostly purple, but a few whites ones with their fuzzy stems. And then clover, pink clover which I was convinced smelled best and which for me definitely counted as a flower.

    Many years later: there’s me swooning over Vancouver’s cherry blossoms. Me, sitting on a double decker bus on the way to work in London waiting for us to pass that big magnolia tree in bloom. Me ogling my father in law’s vegetable garden, amazed carrots come out of the ground like that. Stealing frangipani blooms off the only tree brave enough to bloom in Bahrain. Me peeping toming the neighbors because- ah! they’ve already got daffodils. Blame six years in the desert for the change of heart (I’ll never take a tree for granted again). Blame the fact that I have time to reconnect with what’s unfolding around me. Blame the dog- I don’t have kids but I am forced to wander around for an hour a day looking at the world.

    I envy you all with your earth mothers and your innate knowledge of those things sprouting out of the ground- however incomplete that knowledge might be. I feel horribly inept when it comes to things that grow. Thankfully my dog doesn’t ask. When I do have kids I’ll have to invite ourselves along to your nature outings and maybe learn a thing or too myself. But I can and do relate to the miracle of spring in my own odd citified way.

    Perhaps if you come from the North you have an innate sense that the cold can be cruel and that spring is fragile. That there can be false alarms: I will never forget a certain blizzard that blockaded my family indoors in May. Because I pray for those tulips too.

    I do want to respond to Lemon tart’s musings about disconnect and women’s bodies. You could say I was definitely one of those who was totally disconnected and clueless at a certain point. And what does it mean? Well, when you’re in it, it doesn’t seem to be anything. All this ooing and awing is nice but one cannot afford the time. Spring happens every year, after all. You only learn the implications of those blinders later when stress takes it toll and your body, however mystically, rebels. And then hopefully, you learn and you go back. At some point, however minute it may seem to the rest of the world, you slow down. Even a little bit helps.

    I’d like to believe that every woman, or man for that matter, at some point slows down, even for just a second, to take in what’s around them. Retirement. Babies. Dogs. And that itch Blackberry Honey talks about gets scratched. Maybe it’s just rolling that grain in your palm, or chuckling over your city kid, or showing your daughter in law how to shell peas, or realizing your kid is showing you something like you’ve never seen it before.

  4. Hey, I saw a bunch of daffodils at the bodega in little green plastic buckets a few days ago!

    Bittersweet reply, I know, but worlds away and spring keeps springing doesn’t it.

    By the way, I was 29 before I ever saw a daffodil.

  5. I have loved this dialogue! What a joy to connect with you all in this way!

    This past week has been an interesting journey for me. I felt immediately guilty after posting this because the very next day I had a long talk with my dad about his garden, and all the things that are coming up. He is just as “connected” to the earth as anyone. I felt that it was unfair to claim that for the women in my family. And yet, part of that behaviour, the naming and announcing of flowers, like old friends, is something that I’ve only seen the women in my family do, not the men. But this Wednesday, I sat down in my class with my male friend P, who is a guy. We were talking about my weekend – I’d been for a walk in Stanley Park, and he said (I’m not exaggerating) “Are the Rhododendrons out yet?” When I shook my head, he said “They’re late this year”. And then he asked about the hyacinths! Generalizations breaking down right before my eyes! So, of course, it’s not just women. And yet, on my own personal level, I can’t point out a daffodil without being reminded of my mom, or a crocus without being reminded of my grandmother. And I like that feeling.

    And then BEZ (I don’t like calling you Bitter) with her comments about being a real “city kid”, but swooning over all of it. Which made me think that we are connected to the earth and its/her cycles no matter what. I share Lemon’s concerns about a kid never having seen a sunset!?!?! and there are times that I wonder what this disconnection means for us and where it will lead. Yet on the other hand, maybe we are so inextricably linked to this mud that we come from, that it’s impossible to ignore it for a whole lifetime. Something always finds a way to make us pay attention, as BEZ says; cherry blossoms or tulips or that older person showing the kids something they’ve never seen before. There’s a mystery in it that still leaves us breathless, even with all our science.

    Through this process of posting and reading comments, I’ve observed myself trying to put this experience in boxes only to have it wriggle right out again. And I appreciate that we are all so connected in this, even if our experiences are diverse. I want to say “yes” to all of it. Yes, it’s about women, and it’s about men. About passing on knowledge from one generation to the next and about learning things from scratch. And maybe about a nameless joy at seeing things come to life again.

    Thanks all!

    • “I’ve observed myself trying to put this experience in boxes only to have it wriggle right out again.”

      This is fabulous. So, I’ve been introducing myself to blog world and the one thing that sort of gets me is a lot of what gets considered ‘great posts’ are those that have a)lists b)trite categories c)overly simplistic life lessons. Blogs as greeting cards, with just enough dose of wisdom but in short sound bites. Maybe we’ll never have a hundred followers or 200 people saying ‘great post’!, but I’m learning that it’s so much more rewarding have these thoughtful reflections, and an exchange of ideas. The messiness is lovely.

      you and pavlova mud – only in this universe would you two meet and I’m so glad. more messy loveliness.

      oops. the real reason I mean to comment: today I saw the biggest rhododendrons ever about to bloom. Like huge red artichokes. And I saw a daffodil with an orange snout growing rebelliously on top of some heap of dirt that’s inevitably going to buffer someone’s flower bed. Go daffodil! Thought of you.

      • Hooray for that daffodil! And rhododendrons. Delicious! The magnolias have started here, and the cherry blossoms are coming out in full force.

        And I too so appreciate this lovely messiness.

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