Depending on which poll you heed, Spring could be America’s favorite season. After all, it’s easy to love Spring. Spring feels hopeful and inspiring. Songbirds begin to break the long silence of winter. Early crocuses push up through the snow that has kept us trapped indoors. After months of bleakness, banks of daffodils and tulips erupt in riots of color and the scent of hyacinths rises from unremembered places where they were planted the year before. I love watching pink and white petals twirl from the tops of once-bare fruit and nut trees, now ruffling in the wind like a lady’s skirt. If I had to choose a favorite season, it might be Spring.
Then again, it might be Autumn, the remarkable season that shows us our world has a whole other color palette. Green gives way to scarlet, marigold, magenta, and chestnut. Animals run through the forest, gathering food. Leaves drift to the ground in an annual, graceful dance. Apples grow red and crisp, pumpkins grow fat, and the air grows brisk, brimming with life and possibilities.
Oh, but there’s summer, too . . . with its aroma of sunscreen by day and jasmine by night, its glimmer of magical firefly light and armloads of fragrant roses from the garden. . .
I’m glad I don’t have to choose.
The season that never seems to make the top three, though, despite its hold on Christmas, is Winter. Winter means storms and canceled trips. Sodden gloves and muddy boots. Empty branches and weather that greets you at your front door just to shove you back inside. It’s easy to understand why people grow depressed and frustrated by winter. I have, too.
However, something has changed me in recent years, causing me to welcome the unwelcomed, to greet winter’s arrival with almost the same affection I hold for the other three seasons. That is due, in part, to one little plant.
I love to garden but have a small backyard, half of which is paved over with a concrete patio. Undaunted, I have packed nearly every available inch of dirt with vegetables, berries, roses, daisies, alyssum, lilies, grassy patches, and bright flowers to draw pollinators. Each year, with my head full of plans and dreams, I shuffle and rearrange. I tear out non-performers to move or replace them. I water and weed and then sit among the beauty of divine handiwork and the fruit of my labors. Yet, one valuable corner of my tiny yard remained drab and dark. No matter what I tried to grow in that spot where two fences meet, nothing grew but grass and weeds. No spring bulbs. No summer roses. No fall leaves. I felt condemned to live with just that scrubby bit of boring, uneven dirt and greens.
Winter, of course, isn’t typically the time to grow things. So, my expectations for the gloomy corner during those months were even lower. Winter is harsh and demanding, cold and unforgiving. What could possibly grow in winter but greenery?
Then, I planted one little plant–a pink hellebore–and it grew, right there in the dark. It blossomed, right there in the cold. It thrived, right there in the corner. In fact, it grows fuller and more abundant each year.
The plant–known as a Winter, Christmas, or Lenten Rose–has a structure that looks and feels almost artificial. The leaves are as thick and stiff as plastic. The papery pink petals have flat backs and green centers. Yet they are stunning in their uniqueness. The delicate flowers stand on tall slender stems for weeks in vases of water, reminding me that beauty exists even in dark, hard places.
For that is the truth of it, isn’t it? That is why I’ve come to love winter in my garden. That is why I wait for it, even anticipate it with joy. Hellebores. Cyclamen. Winter plants show that light and wonder can arise to greet each and every day, even the cold ones. Green leaves can bring oxygen, filling shade and darkness with breath and hope.
It’s a reminder that we can, too.
In seasons of division, fear, angst, and darkness of spirit, we, too, can open our petals to the sun. We, too, can breathe deep, exhaling life to those around us. We, too, can bring loveliness in chilly, bleak times. We can rise tall and speak of better things.
This winter, during a trip to visit family, one of my adult sons stopped me a moment to gaze at another feature almost exclusively contained by winter. Snow. What in nature is more exquisite than a snowflake?
He pointed out a common tire track and asked, “Isn’t this a cool pattern?” The indentations of the tire had been transformed into neat geometric zigzags of bright red clay within defined ridges of gleaming white powder and ice. It was beyond cool. It made us marvel. We went to work making a snowman in the yard, two adults playing in the snow like children. I couldn’t remember the last time I had played in the snow.
The world looks different on a clear winter day. Common things stand out as special. The light and shadows show up in contrast. Drips fall from rooftops to make icicles like glass and form cold puddles beneath. Then, those little drips arise into vapor in the sunlight: Solid to liquid to gas. A mighty, tiny miracle.
Don’t get me wrong. I still love Spring. Spring is still a strong contender for first place in my heart. After all the aches of January and February, my heart opens as the flowers do. Yet, this year, as I bid farewell to another winter, I am grateful and even expectant for the next one. A strong little plant and some tire tracks helped show me the way.