Goodbye, and Keep Cold

Back in the early fall (when I had time to read magazines and the leisure to think ahead), I saw an article about planting bulbs in containers so as to have pretty spring blooms. I thought how nice it would be to have pots of flowers on my front stoop in the spring, so I tore the page out of the magazine and trotted off to Merrifield Gardens to buy the recommended bulbs and some potting soil. The article suggested Iris Reticulata, Purple Hyacinth and Avalon Daffodil for the perfect combination of heights and colors. I wasn’t able to get the Avalons and substituted a yellow Cupped Narcissus called Carlton instead. I bought enough bulbs for two pots. Back home, I potted up the bulbs according to the drawing in the article and moved the pots to the deck. To keep the local squirrel population from digging up the bulbs, prevent free-floating maple seeds from planting themselves in the pots and to discourage early blooming, I made a sort of shower cap out of weed-blocking, water-permeable plastic and covered the tops of both pots. I put them close to the house but far enough out where they’d get rained on occasionally. And then I forgot about them.

Until this past week, however, when the combination of plenty of rain and unseasonably warm temperatures made me curious enough to remove the shower caps. Sure enough, the bulbs had sprouted. Well, not the narcissus, which are planted the deepest, but both the iris and the hyacinths had broken the surface and were pushing up with determination. Since the forecast for the week was for continued mild weather, I decided to leave the plants uncovered.

Last night, however, I read the forecast for this week and knew that I had to act quickly (in case you haven’t been paying attention, it’s cold and blustery outside this morning). With regret, I covered the pots back up, bidding adieu to the bright spring green, and pushed the pots back under the eaves of the house. According to my magazine article, they’ll be okay in temperatures down to 25 degrees; I may yet have to throw a blanket over them for added protection.

All this action brought on deep thoughts about our tendency to “push the season.” All during the weekend I worked at Signature’s Open House for its new building and I saw an awful lot of shorts and sandals walking through the building and around Shirlington Village (my concession to the warm temps was to switch to a lighter jacket; I’m a fashion conservative, I guess). I also saw an awful lot of pre-pubescent girls tarted up with makeup and sexy clothes. Yesterday I ducked into a Michael’s to see if there were any great deals on leftover Christmas merchandise; I found that Christmas was represented by a few beat-up ornaments and some stringy tinsel garland, but Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day and most of all, Easter were well represented. V-Day and even St. Paddy’s I can understand, but Easter? I must admit that it felt like Easter weather outside yesterday, but I expect that if I looked at the fetching display of ceramic bunnies, chicks and duckies today, the delicate pastels that seemed so pretty yesterday would look mighty wan.

And what’s the hurry? Why must we push forward so hard, when time goes by so fast? Why must we hurry up and grow? I felt like Christmas whizzed past me this year; I put out my hand to grab it but it was gone, and this in spite of having the tree up in plenty of time and doing everything on schedule and even ahead of schedule. My problem was that I didn’t take time to enjoy the season fully when I was in it; I was already thinking about what I needed to do afterward.

So I’ve covered up the pots of bulbs, and I’m putting on a sweater because it is, after all, still January. And I’m thinking about Robert Frost’s poem, whose title I borrowed to start off this post:

Goodbye, and Keep Cold

This saying good-bye on the edge of the dark
And cold to an orchard so young in the bark
Reminds me of all that can happen to harm
An orchard away at the end of the farm
All winter, cut off by a hill from the house.
I don’t want it girdled by rabbit and mouse,
I don’t want it dreamily nibbled for browse
By deer, and I don’t want it budded by grouse.
(If certain it wouldn’t be idle to call
I’d summon grouse, rabbit, and deer to the wall
And warn them away with a stick for a gun.)
I don’t want it stirred by the heat of the sun.
(We made it secure against being, I hope,
By setting it out on a northerly slope.)
No orchard’s the worse for the wintriest storm;
But one thing about it, it mustn’t get warm.
“How often already you’ve had to be told,
Keep cold, young orchard. Good-bye and keep cold.
Dread fifty above more than fifty below.”
I have to be gone for a season or so.
My business awhile is with different trees,
Less carefully nourished, less fruitful than these,
And such as is done to their wood with an axe–
Maples and birches and tamaracks.
I wish I could promise to lie in the night
And think of an orchard’s arboreal plight
When slowly (and nobody comes with a light)
Its heart sinks lower under the sod.
But something has to be left to God.


  1. Editaur

    Why indeed. My million bells, an annual, that I planted in deck boxes in the summer of 2005 have yet to die. Not that I hate them, but DIE all-freakin-ready. We’re in your second winter!I had the pleasure of passing through Asheville today and enjoying blustery, high-30s weather at midday. Back home, it’s supposed to again be around 60 tomorrow.I don’t really care whether you attribute it to global warming or El Nino or simple cyclical changes in the weather. I want some snow, and I want it now.

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