Peaceable Man Files #28: The Simple Joys of March
Well, the calendar has turned to March, which means that spring is not far away.
In less than three weeks, the sun will cross northward over the celestial equator, marking the start of spring for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. On that day of the spring equinox, day and the night will be of equal length, the first time that’s happened in six months. Every day for the next few months, we’ll enjoy a little extra of that vitamin D-rich sunlight until the process reverses itself at the summer solstice.
The old proverb says that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, but to me, March has always felt like a month when the lion and the lamb dwell under the same gray roof and you don’t know which one you’ll see on any given day. One day, the sun comes out and it feels like spring has come to stay. The next day, it turns bitter cold again and your hopes are dashed. Some of the biggest snowstorms in my memory, in fact, have happened in March.
Mostly, though, March is just kind of dull and soggy and blah. Any snow that falls—and there’s hardly been any snow at all this winter in the Northeast—tends to melt quickly. The month of March is neither winter nor spring but something in between. It’s a month of transition, a colorless corridor we walk from one season to the next.
Even so, there is much to look forward to in March—for me, at least. Two of the most important people in my life, my mother and my oldest son, have birthdays this month. Mom and Brendan were both born on March 17th, which has always given me a good excuse to celebrate with a green beer on St. Patty’s Day.
As well, March brings the madness of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, which I always enjoy watching. I’ll watch it this year even though it doesn’t appear that my alma mater, Villanova, will make the tourney.
Amidst all the gray, March also brings sightings of one of my favorite flowers: the crocus. I just love crocuses. My heart leaps up when I see those purple heralds of spring raising their heads in a landscape drawn in black and white. Hold on, they seem to be saying: The long winter is almost done. Sunnier days are on their way.
Seeing a cluster of crocuses blossoming last week in a neighbor’s yard, I took a drive over to the homestead to see if the crocuses in front of the old farmhouse were in bloom. Being that she had six kids, Mom was always getting gifts of potted perennials—daffodils, narcissus, hyacinth—for her birthday, Easter, and Mother’s Day. After the blooms had faded, she would get out the shovel and pop those bulbs into her flower beds around the house.
One year she got a pot of crocuses. Those bulbs, too, went in the garden, and, as bulbs will do when put in good soil, they spread. Soon, we were seeing crocuses blooming all along the front of the house, even amidst the thick vines of creeping ivy on the shaded side of the porch.
Every March when visiting my folks at the old farmhouse, I would look to see if those crocuses were blooming. If they were, I would rush into the house to tell my mother and we would go out onto the front porch to marvel at them. When the daffodils, narcissus, and hyacinths came into bloom, we would cut a handful of stems and put them in a vase on the kitchen table to bring spring color and cheer into the house.
It was a ritual for us—a way to look for the simple joys of life and celebrate them with childlike wonder. The ritual continued even after my father passed away three and a half years ago. If anything, it felt even more special to me after Dad was gone to celebrate the flowers of spring with Mom, knowing the loss she had gone through—the loss that all of us in the family had gone through.
Mom is no longer at the old farmhouse, having moved into the senior living community last year. But when I stopped by the house last week, there were the purple crocuses blooming in her garden, just like every other year. The narcissus and daffodils were shooting up as well. In another week or two, they, too, would be blooming.
It made me sad at a certain level that the crocuses were in bloom with no one there to enjoy them. But at least the neighbors could see them, and anyone else walking along the side of the road. Whatever family ends up moving into this old house will also be able to enjoy the beauty of these flowers, for years down the road.
Life goes on, even when we’re no longer part of the picture. All we can do is revel in the time we have, treasure it as the gift it is, and plant bulbs of beauty for those who come after us. What more can we ask?
In the meantime, I took a picture of the crocuses to show to Mom at the senior home. When the daffodils come into bloom, I plan to take some cuttings to set on the table in her apartment.
I hope they cheer her, as they used to in the fifty-six years she lived at the old house.