Thursday, January 13, 2011


The trees are bent to the ground in a lather of snow. All day yesterday the snow came down in thick, fat flakes coating the weather side of everything with the whitest white. Today in the thin sunshine the effect is all brilliance and dazzle. As we shovel walkways and scrape car windows it's hard to concentrate on the work at hand for looking at the reflected early morning sun - a bright yellow slash on the east facing snow-coated trees - or across the broad, flat, perfectly smooth sea of white that is the horse pasture. Our early afternoon ride across the causeway to the "big island" reveals glimpses of island trees speckled with dollops of snow, rocks iced with it, beaches covered in it; the sea, in contrast, hard and blue as sapphire; the sky a domed robin's egg.

At this time of year color stands out like a beacon: the red of the ribbon on a bedraggled Christmas wreath, the bright blue of a fishing buoy, the orange traffic cones marking the potholes, the flags snapping on their poles. It's too early in the winter to be starved for color, but that will come. I remember one snowy early spring when I had had enough of staring out the kitchen window at hillocks of snow and the dark, unending row of firs behind the house. Turning away from the bleak panorama of yard and wood I noticed a flash of yellow. Out by the stone wall two daffodils were blooming. I resisted the urge to plow out to pick them and stood and stared at that patch of yellow for a long time.

We get so used to the monochrome of winter that color sometimes feels like an assault on the senses. We have to gently lead ourselves into the psychedelic splendor of approaching spring with cuttings of pale forsythia in a vase, a pot of pink cyclamen on the windowsill or the greenish, creamy glow of an emerging narcissus. And with garden catalogs...which at this time of year fill the mailbox with hope and promise.

Long before the advent of June buyer's remorse (why did we buy six kinds of tomato seeds?) we begin to build the perfect garden in our minds. Mine is filled with sweet peas, nasturtiums, cleome, violets, and roses. Nothing I could nurture in summer could ever approach the Secret Garden garden I create every winter in my head. And it's labor-free. No scratches and scrapes from thorny canes, no dirt under my fingernails, no backache, no sweat. It's all there, perfect in it's un-perfection, a seraglio of color and scent. There might be one day during the summer when I achieve my dream. I might even have a minute to sit on a real bench and appreciate it...but then I will notice the weedy patch by the lilies, or the dandelion in the grass. No, this dream garden is what feeds my soul in the depth of winter.

Our dreams, after all, are what keep us moving toward some vision of perfection. That they sometimes come bound in glossy paper and stuffed into our mailboxes is just one of life's many ironies...and blessings.