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.