Spring is in full swing in the Pacific Northwest. You can’t drive down the road without seeing pink and white cherry trees like giant Hostess Sno Balls lining the gray concrete streets.
Birds are returning; more runners and cyclists appear on the trails near my house; and newly hatched geese toddle along after their proud parents, stopping traffic as speedy teenagers, harried adults and tromping toddlers pause long enough to watch them cross a busy intersection.
I look forward to spring every year, and I follow a tradition my mother unknowingly started many years ago.
My mom has the greenest thumb of anyone I know. She can grow roses that will draw you in with their silken petals and heady perfume. Her tulips could rival a field in Holland. Her peonies, lilies, dahlias and hydrangeas make you really understand Emerson’s quote: “The earth laughs in flowers.”
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I grew up surrounded by the beauty my mom grew and sometimes cajoled from the earth. I couldn’t understand why she would spend hours in the dirt, planting flowers, vegetables and trees, sometimes in almost impossible conditions.
I pulled weeds in those gardens for a penny a weed or until I got too hot in the Texas sun to care about the couple of dollars I’d make. I didn’t appreciate the beauty she was fostering. I just saw the chores of watering scrubby trees at the base of our 16 acres in Texas or weed eating the backyard in Puyallup with a temperamental tool that started only after 30 minutes of sweat, tears and a couple of curses.
But my mom saw the beauty. And every spring, she welcomed each blossom and every green shoot by name.
“Hello, beautiful crape myrtle,” she’d croon as we drove past one in full bloom. “Hello, you gorgeous rhodies,” she’d whisper to the rhododendrons we’d pass on our walk into church.
“Girls! Look at those stunning weeping cherry trees. Good morning, cherry trees!
“Hello, purple hydrangeas. Hello, pink hydrangeas. I see you, blue hydrangeas!”
With each good morning, with each hello, I’d roll my teenage eyes and chide her for talking to bushes, shrubs, trees and flowers, missing how happy they made her.
Sometimes it takes time, distance and a lot of growing up to discover how amazing something really is. Like my mom and her quiet conversations with the flowers. A woman who lost her husband at 36, who fought and survived breast cancer at 39, who raised four independent, stubborn, strong-willed daughters, putting us all through college, often sacrificing her own wants and desires in the process, talking to the flowers and welcoming them to the world every spring. How extraordinary is that?
Most of us can name a handful of flowers, maybe a few trees, and a few different kinds of ground cover. But my mom seems to know them all, and just like she used to find out the name of every kid she went to high school with so she could say hello to them by name when she walked down the hall, she knows each of those flowers by name.
And so I honor her the best way I know how — by finding that same joy every spring. Now it’s my boys who roll their teenage eyes when I say, “Good morning, little tulips; hello, calla lilies; happy spring, succulents!” And, “Boys! Look at the apple trees! Say hello to the apple trees!”
And when I see a cherry tree-lined street ablaze in pink and white blossoms, I snap a picture and send my mom a text from the cherry trees, returning the welcome to spring.
Karin Leeburg Larsen of Puyallup works in Seattle and enjoys writing everything from novels to a cooking blog. She is one of six reader columnists whose work appears on this page. Email her at Klarsen265@gmail.com.