May 8, 2010

LIZ SOARES: Specter of global catastrophe clouds joy at early Maine spring

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed some feathery plants in one of my garden beds. A dim bell rang in the recesses of my mind. I’d planted carrots there in the fall, along with some lettuce and radishes. Why not, I thought at the time. It was worth a try.

I’d never had much luck with late plantings, but perhaps I’d succeed this time. My secret weapon was my husband, Paul. I asked him to dig this bed deeply and add plenty of the compost we’d produced over the summer.

I actually harvested a few salads from the lettuce and radishes, but the carrots grew only to the size of a baby’s pinkie finger before snow fell. Winter came early, and it looked at first as if it was going to be a long, hard season.

Amazingly, winter stopped as abruptly as it started, and we began our slow awakening into spring. This was a season I only dimly remembered from my childhood in Massachusetts. After 24 years in Maine, I’d come to terms with six weeks of “mudville” and two of “bloom time.”

I worried about my perennials as the snow melted in February. A March cold snap could kill them all. But the weather remained mild. It rained. Flood waters rose. A few snowflakes fell. Some even stayed on the ground for an hour.

The crocuses appeared, and then the daffodils. I estimated they were two weeks early. I can verify this now with an anecdote. One Mother’s Day, about five years ago, Paul looked out the window to see two little girls snapping off tulips in our front garden. He confronted them. “We wanted to give them to our Mom,” they explained.

Aww. Well, anyway, those tulips bloomed two weeks ago. The lilac, which appears regularly on my sister’s birthday, May 24, rolled out this week. The garlic is a foot high. The bleeding hearts are blazing. Even the poky pear tree, the last to flower, is shedding white petals all over the yard.

One year, I went to a friend’s house for lunch after the school year had ended. That would have been approximately June 15. I wanted to bring a bouquet from my yard, but the only thing blooming was sweet woodruff. It’s a lovely little plant, but hardly bouquet-worthy.

My point: the woodruff is blooming now; wildly, amazingly, abundantly.

The winter farmers’ market still had several weeks to go when some of the regular, seasonal vendors showed up with radishes, scallions, lettuce and spinach.

In my own garden, chives, oregano and thyme were ready to clip. A lone kale plant offered enough leaves for a soup or two. And then there were the carrots.

I went out with my trowel and poked around. Sure enough, there were 20 or more carrots. They were spindly, but definitely edible. If I’d had a chance to thin them before the first snow, I’d have had a decent crop.

When I read Barbara Kingsolver’s paean to localism, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” in 2007, I couldn’t imagine trying to eat even one meal gathered from a 15-mile radius in April.

But here I was with carrots, kale, chives, oregano and thyme right outside my door, and milk, eggs, bread and more salad fixings from local vendors.

I struggle with my guilt at enjoying all this. Who wants to complain about starting to eat meals outside on deck and porch a month early? Who isn’t eager to rip off the woolen socks and flannel sheets? When I take out the old iron garden edger to cut sod, rather than break up ice, why shouldn’t I sing a song of jubilation?

Because it’s all wrong, that’s why. I would rather be saying to myself, “Gee, if I enjoy these mild temperatures and an early spring, perhaps I should move to a more temperate climate.”

But I don’t even want to think about that. It just reminds me that the more temperate climate is moving toward me.

I count my blessings, I do. Clouds of volcanic ash are not hovering over our heads. Gallons of oil are not seeping toward our shores. No forest fires race toward us.

Yet, who am I, but a part of this Earth? What happens anywhere happens to me, to us here in Maine. Our own Rachel Carson warned of environmental catastrophe in “Silent Spring.” What would she say of the incredibly noisy one of 2010? The Earth is talking to us. Are we listening?

Liz Soares is the author of All for Maine: The Story of Gov. Percival P. Baxter. Visit her at

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