It’s that time of year. The holiday lights in the neighborhood have come down and we are in the dark, slow grind until the forsythia bloom. The endless fields of pure white snow have faded into black mucky lumps alongside the road. As they melt, they reveal gravel and stray pieces of trash. We drive home from work in utter gloom, the slopes of the mountains and the expanse of the Hudson River hidden from us. We peek at the perennial herbs in the garden, hanging on for dear life in the wind and cold. We drive to the grocery store and buy something called “Italian Herb Mix” in a tube. The ingredients are basil, thyme, rosemary, glucose syrup, dextrose, and sodium ascorbate to help protect flavor. Winter is cruel.
There are moments of respite. Fewer hours of daylight mean more hours of starlight, more hours to watch Orion chase Taurus across the Southwestern sky. With the leaves off of the trees, our backyard now features a stunning view of Mt. Beacon. And it’s a lot harder to feel guilty about sleeping late on a Saturday morning when it’s 15 degrees out with a wind chill of Oh My God There’s No Way I’m Going Out There. Still, we find ourselves taking comfort in the little signs that Winter is winding down: A bit of daylight still stretched across the sky as we leave work, pitchers and catchers reporting to training camp, and most importantly, the seeds arriving in the mail.
Last year, our garden was a haphazard compromise between what we wanted to grow and which seeds we could find on that frantic afternoon last March when we figured out that we were already behind schedule. It was a garden built on panic and ignorance.
Enthusiastic panic and ignorance, but still. This time around we started planning as soon as the last leaf fell from the trees. We ordered catalogues and researched heirloom breeds that were naturally blight resistant or immune to powdery mildew. We planned our rotation, sowed our cover crop, and turned our compost until it froze. It’s tempting to say we’re wiser now and have learned what works and what doesn’t. But let’s be honest. We’ve only done this once. There’s no way to know which failures weren’t our fault and which things grew in spite of us, not because of us. Perhaps the blight will return. Perhaps the deer will finally figure out that they can get over our two-foot fence with minimal effort. Perhaps the Hessians will attack. They’ve been up this way before.
But as we spread our seed packets out on the dining room table we are overwhelmed with excitement to get started, no matter the outcome. We wander outside to clear fallen branches and can feel it coming. Even the 38-degree weather now feels like a warm 38 degrees, like Spring is hiding just underneath the wind, looking for a place to land.
Kristen & Brian PJ Cronin live in Beacon with their garden and cats. Kristen is the Communications & Marketing Associate for Safe Harbors of the Hudson in Newburgh, and Brian is the Development Associate for The Storm King School in Cornwall-on-Hudson.