Each footstep was carefully placed testing for ice. Falling uncontrollably down the front steps in to the early dawn is no way to start the day. I should have known the steps were just wet and not frozen by seeing the first hint of thick fog through the slowly waxing light in the treetops across the valley. Frost comes on those clear, starry nights we get so infrequently here in Western Oregon in winter. This morning the clouds were low and thick.
As the tires of my Honda crunched up the long driveway, I skirted puddles so as not to create potholes in the gravel roadbed and realized that it had once again rained in the darkness. In fact, mist was still coating the windshield requiring a wipe or two during the ¾ mile journey to the end of the lane to retrieve the morning newspaper. Rain has long since stopped soaking into the ground. Now it mostly just runs on the surface collecting in rivulets, becoming streams, joining to creeks, and eventually roiling in dark rivers of silt-laden rainwater.
But it is always on days like this, every year, that summer begins for us. The beginning isn’t announced by anything weather related, obviously. It’s more postal related, signaled by a growing stack of garden seed catalogues. When the stack reaches critical mass, and includes the catalogue from our go-to local seed company, the date is set for the opening celebration, which is held, more or less formally, on a Saturday morning in February.
The summer’s opening ceremony usually lasts three or four hours and includes a critical review of last year’s valuable experience, an inspection of the stores of garden canned goods, a reminiscence of the recipes that rocked last year, a parade of old seed packets whose seeds may or may not still be viable, and frequent looks out the window and into the garden to firm up logistical ideas and proposals.
The big event, the event that carries all the emotional power, is the reading of the most exciting sounding descriptions from each vegetable category. Having read years and years of vegetable descriptions from dozens of catalogues hasn’t diminished the joy of the event one bit, nor has it made us the least bit cynical about the veracity of those descriptions. It’s a long way from seed to ripe vegetable and so much can happen along the way that we’re more inclined to blame the soil, or the weather, or the gardener, and give the seeds a break. That inclination may be a little naive and somewhat unproductive, and it’s true that some seeds just don’t work well in our garden, but that never dims the hope that rushes forth from those small pictures and delicate descriptions.
So this past Saturday, during a three-hour ceremony, on a windy, rainy, cold winter’s day in February, summer began. The seed order was placed on line, the catalogues were stacked and set aside, last year’s seeds were packed back in their airtight container, and things immediately began to brighten up around here. New life is springing forth, if only so far from our summer souls, and the worst of the dark is over for another year.