Durham News: Opinion

George O’Neal: Suddenly spring

I bet we could all agree that the seasons have a lot to say about what we will and won’t be doing.

Just a couple weeks ago, many of us were huddled indoors because of the snowpocalypse, drinking cocoa, enjoying a good book and admiring the snow from inside.

Unfortunately that wasn’t the scene up here in Person County where we got 10 inches of snow. Instead, the weather kept me awake all night long, drinking whiskey with neighbors who were kindly helping me to clear tons of snow off the greenhouses to keep them from collapsing. (Disclaimer: The weather kept me up all night, but the whiskey was my choice). That’s a thing everyone does in the middle of the night, right?

At times this season it seemed like we were just in a perpetual winter place, like Narnia with the Snow Queen reigning, an arctic gray land with the sun an elusive stranger that we might not see again.

But then, just like that, spring pops out. All at once the bees are covering the maple blooms, and the bulbs are all poking their heads above the soil. The onion grass grows about a foot overnight, and you get bit by that first mosquito of the year. “Hello old friend. I see you’re freshly awake from a winter’s hibernation, and what a winter it” ... smack!

Now, we are in the midst of a full-scale awakening of sorts. On my evening walk I am seeing colors that have been absent from the landscape for months, and I literally have to put a finger in my ear when I pass the pond due to the deafening chorus of the spring peepers. (Though I’m guessing if we could translate their crazy frog language, their calls would be single minded and lewd, they sure sound amazing. I’ll spare you my best guesses on translation.)

All the plants and animals must be on the same listserv when the memo goes out saying that’s its time to gear up, find a partner, make a house and settle down. Yes, I’m talking to you, little bird that hollowed out a Chinese cabbage in the greenhouse to make a nest this week.

On the farm, I have the luxury of seeing these changes close up. While being outside all day has its downsides, it sure has plenty of ups as well. Like looking down and seeing huge spotted salamanders headed to meet their friends in the first March rains, or the hawks competing for each other’s attention with piercing shrieks right above the collard patch, then after certain arrangements are made watching the gathering of nest materials.

That first warm day of the year reaches in and speaks to us on some deep wild level, one that we might not connect with otherwise. My nephews, ages 4 and 2, were visiting this weekend, and we walked the river, exploring the banks. At first, being city boys, they wanted to keep their shoes on, but after a little persuasion they were barefoot and stepping in the cold mud. They quickly took to the squishy mud on their feet and within a few minutes, they were slogging through it like seasoned mud toads, flinging rocks and sticks with reckless abandon. They were enthusiastically responding to the end of their seasonal hibernation.

I couldn’t help but wish that I still had that air of exploration about me, the one that compels you to pick up something slimy from the river and fling it just to see the result. Or that entices you to smack the water’s surface repeatedly with rocks to see who can make the best splash. But then I realized that I do get to keep that feeling with me, by choosing a job that lets me play in the mud all day and see the seasons as they change, and where the benefits package doesn’t involve retirement but the freedom to squish your toes in the mud and every day is jeans Friday or even Daisy Duke Monday.

It’s crazy to think that in two months I’m going to be longing for winter to come back again because my life will be so busy. I’ll be complaining about poison ivy, and tick bites and watching every unpredictable, hail heavy thunderstorm with unease, cutting the grass with what seems like impossible frequency, trying to get to the farmers market on time and failing repeatedly.

I sure am thankful to see the spring now, which fruit trees made it through the real cold nights and all the hope that springs forth. If the soil ever dries out again, I’ll be excited to empty the overflowing greenhouse and fill the fields with colorful vegetables, and start the slow crawl to longing for the first warm day of the year all over again.

George O’Neal is a member of the Carrboro and Durham farmers markets and operates Lil’ Farm in Timberlake in Person County.