The other day the kids and I were treated to the most amazing site--a crocus lawn in our own town. We’d passed this house before but never, I guess, at this exact moment in the year. Every corner of the lawn was crammed with purple or white crocuses, all unfurled (and one being munched by a squirrel). The kids and I were stunned. Obviously, spring was here, well, sort of. It was still February. We were still wearing coats and nursing the tail end of head colds. But the crocus filled future was right there before us. At that moment, the kids and I decided it was time to actively start seeking out spring miracles. Sometimes you just happen upon magic, like a crocus lawn a few streets away, but more often you have to ready the eye and mind for it. It helps to have a plan, I’ve found. So here’s ours:

  • Keep an eye on the feeder. I consider the birds who come to my feeder something akin to pets. I am a consummate bird watcher. It’s sad to go months without seeing their multi-hued plumes. I fill up the bird feeder in the winter but it’s mostly just hijacked by a few obese Jersey squirrels who snatch the suet five minutes after I put it out. Recently though, they’ve started to return--the blue jay, the nuthatch, the yellow warbler. Rambunctious as he is, my five year old son will stop and stand silently, watching a cardinal alight. We’ve talked about cardinals as the visiting spirits of loved ones. He likes think of the bird’s appearance as a visit from his great grandmother, G.G., watching him again as he enjoys playing outside.

  • Keep our ears open. The windows may not be open yet but the sound of the red headed woodpecker is audible, even loud, while lying in bed on Saturday morning. There are no insects buzzing yet but the world is noisier, the neighbors rousing from the sleep of winter. We hear joggers headed to the nearby river, teenagers ambling after dark. Trains and planes are always loud in our location just outside of Philadelphia. But maybe we notice them more as we begin to contemplate the travel options of spring and summer.

  • Await first visitors.The first bunny spotting of spring is always a pleasant event. It happened just this week for us, a charming little puff of brown nudging through our neighbor’s garden. “We’ll see you again on Ostara,” my daughter called after it. Our other early spring visitors have been less cute. The kids screamed when they spotted a stink bug, first on the railing of the outside steps and then right on the floor of their play area. We ushered them outside then talked about where bugs go in winter.

  • Plan for outdoors. The seeds we started at Imbolc are now full fledged seedlings. The tomatoes are still tiny but the lettuce will be ready to go out into the garden bed just a little before last frost. We transfer the seedlings into bigger pots (“out of their cribs and into their big kid beds,” my son says) so their roots have room to extend and grow. Before long we’ll be hardening them off. Now we pluck plastic soda bottles from the recycling bin to wash them out and use them as makeshift cloches. These upcycled bell jars will protect tender little lettuce plants from frigid wind when planted outdoors soon enough.

  • Appreciate indoor miracles. Like most avid gardeners, house plants sustain me during the winter months. I’ve inherited a few orchids from folks who’ve decided to ditch theirs when the plant was dormant, just a pot of shiny, fat green leaves. This February I spent an inordinate amount of time walking my orchids around the house, trying them in this pool of sunlight and then that one. At last I found the right northern facing light. The orchids will be blooming any day. The bracts are bulging and ready to pop. Each morning, my son and I inspect them. Not yet, not yet, but soon!

 

It’s tough to wait this time of year, when the world is waking up and everything almost seems to be stirring. It’s tough to get the kids to keep their coats on. When they take to their swings, they kick off not just their shoes but also their socks. It’s too chilly for that, as they soon find out but I can’t exactly blame them. I’m ready to shuck my coat and shoes too. Ostara can’t come soon enough. I’m ready--we’re all ready--to put a favorite Margaret Atwood quote into practice: “in spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”