The state of the onion

All seasons are unpredictable, but spring may be the most fickle — it just can’t make up its mind (pardon the blatant anthropomorphism). I have written proof.

I am an ardent journal-keeper. A series of speckled composition notebooks have been following me for decades and I seem bent to write everything down: to-do lists, sketches of home improvement ideas, whimsical doodles that meant something once but now are gibberish, descriptions of things seen and heard, wish lists, phone numbers, notes for writing projects (like this column) — an anthology of haphazard stuff now some 3,000 pages long, that occasionally proves useful.

And that leads us back to spring, which, as an enthusiastic gardener, I have been keeping track of since Ronald Regan was president. And here’s where the fickleness comes in. A few examples:

March 31, 2001: “Forty-seven inches of snow on the ground, ugh!”

March 31, 2002: “Garden is virtually snow-free, if (a bit) mucky.”

May 18, 2002: “Been raining (and snowing!) all morning.

2009: “Rain, rain, rain, everything soggy, rotting, or dead. No garden to speak of this year.”

2010: “One of the best springs I can remember.”

So, one year we’re buried in snow on April Fools Day, and a year-to-the-day after that we’re dry as a bone, yet get flurries several weeks later. Ice-out has come as early as the end of March (2006), or as late as the first day of May. Peas have gone in the ground in late March, or some six weeks later. The last frost? Oh, who in the world knows — I suppose the Fourth of July is safe.

See what I mean? For all its delights, spring is positively schizophrenic. It’s chaotic and wishy-washy, frantic one year (like when the thermometer hit 88 in March, 1998) and shut right down another year (when you can’t get a shovel in the ground until long after the taxes are due). Spring is like a blind date; you open the door and say hello and sometimes things warm up, and sometimes the frost never seems to leave the ground.

My problem is (partly, at least) these silly journals I keep, this compulsive need I have to write my life down, including my exploits with spade and hoe — my annual State of the Onion Address, if you will. And all the years of compiled data drive me a little nuts and I just can’t relax. Does it really matter, after all, if I get my tomatoes in the ground this year no later than May 3 (by 4:15 in the afternoon) to set some silly record? I mean, I’m pretty sure you can still buy tomatoes in the store. Yet, I doodle on. Just yesterday, in fact, I felt obligated to grab journal number 14 and scribble this depressing entry on page 83: “April 23, 2011, 11:35 a.m., snow falling on lettuce.”

I suppose the trick for me would be to chuck the journals and just roll along with whatever (and whenever) spring comes knocking. Warm, cold, early, late, wet, dry, who cares — don’t write anything down, just enjoy the inevitable wonder of the end of winter. I mean, there has never been a spring that didn’t come at all, right?

No, spring can’t be trusted, but neither has it ever failed. All you can know for sure is that the snow will eventually melt, you will get your peas in, the onions will shoot up, and then, some glorious weeks (or months) later, you will be able to run screaming down the dock and jump in the lake without having a heart attack.

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