I’ve never been one for fancy nails. Call it the tomboy in me. Or the typist. Long nails get in the way of the keyboard — how I’ve mostly made my living. So I’ve always kept them stubby, short and plain. Pushing back the cuticles got me into trouble as a teen — I seemed to always go too bloody far — so I gave that up. About as girly as I ever get is clear polish.
But I’m a long way from that now. I’ve sacrificed my hands to the cause, wrecked them in the flower bed. Call it my fall resistance movement. To wit: I dirtied my knees, yanked out weeds, shoveled out gravel and hauled in fertile soil. All to plug in bulbs that won’t blossom for another six months.
Short of cultivating a time machine, conjuring up dreams of an early spring seemed like a good way to combat my version of seasonal affective disorder.
Fall and winter are death to me. Never mind that my front yard maple does her best to approximate the green, red, orange, peach palette of my childhood New England autumns. Notwithstanding the fact that this is the Evergreen State and our firs, hemlocks and cedars never lose their color. Or that rejuvenating rains have rid the lawn of its baked summer brown.
As medicine I chose trumpeting daffodils — King Alfred, Dutch master — and blue hyacinths — what a heady scent! Whatever pairs of garden gloves I once had disappeared when it came time to plant. So brown spots speckle my thumb pads. I’ve sullied the whites of my nails, stained the cracks and crevasses of my fingertips and roughed up what had been a soft handshake.
My vindication can’t come soon enough. The bare-branch silhouettes of back-east winters have begun to haunt. I recall the howl of winter winds, the noise of breaking icicles, the way my fingers ache with cold outdoors until hard exercise gets my blood moving.
But mostly, I object to the death that already surrounds me. The detritus and debris of flowers gone by, the rotting remains of my husband’s once bountiful vegetable garden.
All year long I walk and watch the seasonal succession: in the woods, along the road shoulders and in neighbor’s yards. I adore the smell of lilac in early summer and the splashy cascading flowers of ocean spray. Even invasive species please me: the blue lupine that clogs the ditches, the tall stalks of fireweed and foxglove, the creeping pink vetch.
But I began to tense up this summer when the Canada thistle bloomed, then offered its silky duff as nesting material to the migrating goldfinch air force. Hundreds of finches perch and bask on the utility lines adjacent to a nearby cow pasture. I’m a sucker for their bright breasts, their bobbing and dipping flight. Too bad their passage marks the summer’s end, the fall’s beginning. When the cold rains came, the hordes of finches disappeared.
It was about that time that I began to think about ways to summon an early spring. Critters all around poised to cope with winter’s looming specter. What seemed like platoons of orb-weaving spiders cast their nets around my house and between the fence posts. The webs shown brightly in the frosty, early morning light. Woolly bear caterpillars began to cross the road.
The cycle of life will continue. I just tried to hasten it along. Now, making these hands presentable requires a serious lemon juice soak and some of that Corn Huskers Lotion.
I mulched the flower bed with piles of dead maple leaves and saved as reminders the pretty packages of bulbs that suckered me in. The credit card bill hasn’t come yet. But my work has attracted attention. A mole has tunneled in.
Susan Gordon, one of five reader columnists whose work appears on this page, lives on about five acres north of Eatonville with her husband and son. She’s a former News Tribune staff writer. Reach her at sjgordon firstname.lastname@example.org.