"Daffodils, that come before the swallow dares,
and take the winds of March with beauty."
It doesn't happen often, but that mid-seasonal period weaving waning winter with approaching spring is the one time of year I completely conquer homesickness for my native New England. Nowhere in the six Northeastern states can you find tulip trees, forsythia, dogwoods, and daffodils in bloom by the beginning of March. One year I can remember trying to distinguish apple blossoms from ice crystals following a Mother's Day snowstorm -- in May. No, the South is definitely the place to be at this balmy, variegated time of year.
Usually. Although yet another winter storm dumped more than a foot of snow on my brother's Massachusetts home last week, we weren't entirely spared. Following near 80-degree temperatures the week before, a cold rain coupled with plummeting temperatures and wind gusts that, had there been snow would have pushed it into high drifts, set our teeth to chattering, our thermostats back up and our winter clothing to the front of the closet again. For the first time in weeks I had to wear gloves and earmuffs during a normally pleasant morning walk.
The crisp air, steamy lake and cloudless sky were so invigorating I hardly noticed the temperature, but I did notice the daffodils. Hearty flowers that they are, the yellow bonnets were just as tall and straight above their long, green stems as they had been a few days before, even though they were covered with a thin layer of frost.
A bit later than March in the New England of my youth, it wasn't unusual to see tomato, cabbage or flowering plants begin life in small wooden boxes behind our pot-bellied stove. We might move the boxes to a sunny window during the day, but we knew better than to rush them into the ground after the first warm day. Memorial Day weekend was the earliest most of us transferred our hothouse plants to their permanent location outside. Even then it was often a gamble, and we kept blankets ready to throw over our tender seedlings in the event of frost. Sometimes, however, as careful as we tried to be, our efforts weren't good enough and a crop or prized floral garden was lost to the elements over which we had little control.
Human nature revels in progress. We like advancement, growing bank accounts, and springtime temperatures that only move up the mercurial scale. We don't like business reverses, roofs that leak just when the car is paid off or personal problems that shatter our lives when we thought everything was going so well. We don't like frost on our daffodils.
Setbacks -- frost in a symbolic sense -- knows no season and appears in any clime. Sometimes it blights people just as it does plant life, and sometimes it destroys. Lives were lost a few states north of us in last week's unexpected storm, and often livelihoods in our own southern states are devastated when tender buds of early spring fruit and vegetables are ruined by a late frost.
But frost is also a gentle reminder of both the fragility of life and the strength of the human spirit, which emerges on cue like the sun after the clouds clear away. As the earth warms again we gain a greater appreciation for non-stormy days, and check our smugness that everything is under our control.
When setbacks come, as they inevitably do, when life is spared and damage is slight we don't have to wither and fade under the temporary strain. Based on past recoveries and nature's reminder we, too, are designed to remain tall and straight like the daffodils, and strong enough to bloom again.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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