Spring has arrived in Maryland, in fits and starts and a bit half-heartedly. But according to the calendar, it is spring.
I am back in the garden, determinedly so, after a winter of mild days that held the promise of a little yardwork but then snatched it away, laughing a cold, blistering laugh.
I was not the only living thing tormented by this uneven winter. The tulips and daylilies were fooled into emerging and their tips were burned by a sudden cold blast. I think the hydrangea buds met the same fate. I will be surprised if I see a single blue mop head this year.
I am another spring older this year, and I am feeling it. After my first day in the garden, doing the cleanup chores I neglected last fall, I awoke feeling as if I had fallen down a flight of wooden steps. This must be what tennis players feel like after neglecting their sport all winter.
My friend Diana says each year means another body part for a woman to camouflage. Shorts give way to Capri pants to hide those saggy knees. I don't know anybody who goes sleeveless anymore, not even with a tan.
The garden takes a similar toll, I think. Each spring brings a sharp reckoning with age. Brand new parts of me hurt. So do the same old parts. My joints sound like corn flakes when I move.
The result is, I am moving slower, much slower, on my appointed rounds in the garden. The lettuces, usually planted by my daughter's birthday in mid-March, are still in their seed packets. I have not even ordered the mulch, which is usually down by Easter. I can't predict when I will tackle that chore, because the perennials must be fed first and the fresh compost worked into the beds.
I am more behind than I ever have been at this time of year. But I don't mind. My garden tasks are piling up, and yet I am not as frantic and frustrated as I would be if they were dirty dishes, or bills or laundry. I attribute it to the opiate effect of gardening. It is the process that satisfies. That's why garden is both a noun and a verb.
I am delegating more of my garden chores this year than I ever have. Jeremy, the young man from across the street, has cheerfully cut back my ornamental grasses and bagged the debris I have raked from the beds, and he has carried it all to the curb. He's also cut back the liriope for me (it is so hard to kneel that long) in exchange for a few dollars. (What exactly is the going rate for such things?)
I tell myself that these manual tasks bore me, and I need to use my hard-won time in the garden doing more creative things. But the truth is, I run out of strength much sooner these days. Perhaps because it is still early in the season. Maybe my endurance will return.
More likely, it will run out of me like sand in an hourglass, and, over time, I will have to direct more Jeremys doing more tasks while I ponder, gaze and plan.
But I doubt that I will mind as much as I mind the new line in my face or the new gray in my hair or the body part that needs to be camouflaged.
Because when you garden, finishing is not a goal.