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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Waiting Season

Air Date: Week of

This year, in many places, spring has been slow to arrive, and when it does, it comes in fits and starts. Commentator Verlyn Klinkenborg says he’s savoring the suspense.


CURWOOD: In many places across the country, spring this year has felt like a tease, departing just as quickly as it shows itself. For commentator Verlyn Klinkenborg, the waiting is a season all its own.

KLINKENBORG: At last, the starch has gone out of the snow. The hillsides and pastures have begun to slump, as though the melt were going to carry away the very topography of earth. After a day of warm rain, a hollow forms at the base of every tree. And when the clouds drift apart, the afternoon heat the trunks absorb makes the hollows bigger.

Last week, a bare patch of ground opened up on a south-facing hill. The call of birds at the feeders began to change almost a month ago. You could tell that something had been added to the perfunctory songs of winter, even if you couldn't say just what it was.

All of this is encouraging. Yet the garden catalogues still lie in an undisturbed heap. The top layer of soil is still a good foot and a half beneath the snow, and the gardening zeal I should be feeling lies buried well below that, down where the beetle grubs doze. Every time I get ready to start making the seed lists I should have made a month ago, we get another six inches of light powder, which hurls me backward in time, no matter how short-lived the new snow turns out to be.

The thaw is as fickle as the blonde coyote my wife saw in the pasture the other day. It stood there boldly for a while, driving the dogs crazy, then it vanished into the edge of the woods, leaving only its canine musk behind. Spring is going to have to come this year, not with hints and prognostications but with a solid blow to the head. Otherwise, I won't believe it.

The surest sign that spring will come is on the blacktop roads. By mid-January the highways were full of mild ripples. The ripples gradually sharpened into ridges, and as rain began to fall and freeze in the night, the frost sheared off whole layers of asphalt. Just up the main road from our house, an axle-deep car length pit has opened. By now, we know every heave in our stretch of road. We weave up and down the highway, trying to avoid the bone-rattling shocks that nearly jump you into the other lane.

I keep a long list of things that need doing this spring, mainly because the list itself feels like an accomplishment. It's been too cold to build pasture pens for the chickens or a house for the ducks and geese that are coming in May. Until the snow goes, I can't separate the chickens into breeding clutches, and it's too early to start seeding the pastures. So I'm trying to figure out how to treasure these days of utter suspense while winter goes and a war begins. There's never any telling what spring will bring.

[MUSIC: Miles Davis In a Silent Way In a Silent Way Sony (1969)]

CURWOOD: Verlyn Klinkenborg writes the Rural Life column for The New York Times. He is a frequent contributor to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Farfina - Farfina “The Pulse of Life” Ellipsis (1992)]

CURWOOD: There are times of great beauty on a coffee farm, writes Isak Dinesen in her novel “Out of Africa”. When the plantation flowered in the beginning of the rains, it was a radiant sight. A cloud of chalk in the mist of the drizzling rain over 600 acres of land.

The coffee blossom has a delicate, slightly bitter scent, like the black thorn blossom. When the field reddened with the ripe berries, all the women and children were called out to pick the coffee off the trees, together with the men. Then the wagons and carts brought it down to the factory near the river.

Coffee-growing is a long job. It does not all come out as you imagine when yourself, young and hopeful in the steaming rain, you carry the boxes of your shining young coffee plants to the nurseries.

Thanks to Heritage Africa, you can travel to Kenya and visit a coffee plantation as picturesque as Dinesen's. Living on Earth is giving away a 15-day trip for two on the ultimate African safari, with visits to several game preserves, including Kruger National Park and the Serengeti. Please go our website, loe.org, for more details about how to win this 15-day trip to see some of Africa's most spectacular sights. That's loe.org.




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