A record-breaking warm front has stalled over the Midwest this week. The sounds and smells of outdoors entertain my senses through open patio doors as I write these words. The forecast promises a short run for the balmy weather, but even in its brevity this spring tease has brought a new energy to life.
We haven’t had an extremely cold winter, but a few stretches in the low teens laid all but the most persistent plants into slumber. It is decidedly more dormant in the garden than last winter where many half-hardy plants remained green all season.
Wondering if this week’s warmth had awakened any of the early risers, I walked through the garden after breakfast this morning.
To my surprise, only a few plants have raised a sleepy, cautious eyelid. One new stem of Hellebore flowers (‘Melody’, pictured above) is braving a January bloom, about a month ahead of schedule. The witch hazel (Hammamelis vernalis) that hovers above the Hellebores still holds hundreds of buds closed tightly; just a few rust-colored tendrils have emerged.
I found just a single clump of daffodils venturing through the mulch and leaves. There are hundreds of daffodils planted throughout our property. They are usually the first bulbs to break ground in spring, long before our last frost and snow. Today, they’re having nothing to do with the recent warmth, preferring to stay hidden under the soil.
Just beyond the north gate, I came upon Zefr, my favorite piece of garden art. Zefr (short for Zen Frog) has been my gentle reminder to stay centered amid the squalls of life. This is the second winter Zefr has spent in our garden. This year, it’s obvious that he wasn’t made for freezing temperatures. Large chunks of his enameled finish have broken away; the stoic peace of his face is interrupted by a network of fissures.
Seeing Zefr in this state made me realize that we do the same thing as our gardens — close inward when our environment is less than inviting. We circle the wagons during the storms, encase ourselves in enamel, and present a stoicism to others. Unlike the garden whose nature forces it to burst forth again in spring, a lot of us refuse to reemerge. We stay encased in the safety of our protective facades.
I recently read Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead. In this book, Brown lays out her research that shows that truly engaged, effective and satisfied people are those that allow themselves to be vulnerable. In Brown’s words,
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deep and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”
Brown understands and admits that vulnerability can be a scary place. Even after seeing the results of her own research, she finds it difficult to reveal herself. We all do. Her mantra is: “Give me the courage to show up and let myself be seen.”
A friend of mine once jokingly told me: “Don’t anthropomorphize nature. Nature hates that.” I know that it’s neither easy nor difficult for our gardens to reemerge in spring. They just reemerge, without a choice in the matter.
As humans, we have that choice. We can stay shrouded in enamel, or we can take a cue from nature, summon our courage and show up.