It’s January, and the plant and seed catalogues have begun to arrive. Their pages are filled with spectacular specimens that provide a winter diversion until signs of spring actually arrive. I am tempted to order everything so that my yard will be as full of color as the pages of the catalogues. I imagine a large windbreak of Messer Forest spruce and pine on the north side of the house alongside the shade garden, an orchard of Stark Brothers dwarf apple, pear and peach trees on the east side, every kind of Wayside Gardens viburnum, agapanthus, aconitum, heuchera, aquilegia, campanula, coreopsis, echinacea… in the south and east yards, except for the space reserved for the Gurney’s vegetable garden and the strawberry patch and the Perkins rose garden. Our yard isn’t big enough, of course, for any of that. But this late winter break is for dreaming, not working.

Not that there isn’t work to do. The dried stalks of last year’s garden have served their purpose and need to be cut before the first buds of the new season poke their heads through the soil. The stalks have allowed the roots to breathe through the winter’s frozen crust, and they have formed the “architecture” of the winter garden, according to the sages of Victory Garden and HGTV. In reality I just never get around to cutting them until late winter, so I use any excuse for delay.

All it takes is a few warm days in February to encourage the tulips, daffodils and lilies to show up. Their first appearances always get frost bite, but they spur our hopes for an early spring. The winter accumulation of leaves from the oak trees across the street and any other vagabond neighborhood trees must be cleared, along with the candy wrappers and overflow waste from the neighboring yards that get caught in the existing landscape plants. There is plenty to do before the first crocus blooms, but it will surprise us before it all gets done.

Then we will begin again with the trips to the greenhouses and the selection of a few annuals to fill the empty spaces and provide the splashes of color that the perennials don’t provide in the season’s gaps.  We will take a census of the survivors of the wintry tests, and discover what new arrivals the birds have brought and deposited in the soft earth and mulch. Sometimes they have brought visitors that we have not imagined would take up residence here. Then we will resume the weekly hour of prayer and meditation in the yard following the lawn mower in its noisy labyrinth.

I rarely order anything from the catalogues, but that does not make me appreciate them any less. They provide a welcome tour of anticipation through the seasons ahead and relief from the heaviness of winter’s last effects. In similar ways the combination of secular and religious events on the calendar provide a way of marking time until better days arrive. Between Valentines and St. Patrick’s Day, M L King’s and President’s Day, Lent and Easter and Pentecost, there is a mixture of nature and history to keep us moving along in our hopes and imaginations. We count the days with an expectation that something new will break through the old patterns and refresh our spirits and make it possible for us to see with new eyes and hear with new ears and feel with new hearts that God is indeed good…all the time.