Sunday, March 21, 2010

Inconstant Spring

Inconstant everything, it seems. Yesterday was the first day of spring, and after a whole week of decent, warm, sunny weather, winter gave us a parting bite.

Fortunately, here in Jeff City we missed having any accumulation of snow, although towns not too far away got a couple of inches. No, we only got dreary, cold rain, and in midafternoon it changed to sleet—sloppy, wet ice pellets thrashing down from above. The ground was too warm for it to collect.

As the sleet fell, we were driving around town getting some items at Lowe’s and K-mart. Cat litter, some batteries, more contact lens cleaner, and things even more boring than that, plus a little flat of pansies for the front planters. (Remember, tomorrow is Edna Day!)

The sleet collected in the corners of the windshield, making fogged-up patches on the inside. With it coming down like that, it turned our routine shopping into more of a chore. Especially the parts where we hurried to stuff our new acquisitions into the car.

I am however grateful for the brief ferocity of the sleet, which continued during the only time I was outside, because I didn’t want to be tempted to look too closely at my recent accomplishment: the cleaned-out flower bed in the terrace over our retaining wall.

That was one of my big yardwork achievement this week. I might have put it off a few days longer, but news from our accountant late Monday morning made me so agitated I couldn’t sit staring at a computer anymore, so in three hours that afternoon I cleared out the dried-up biomass from this entire garden. And that is a chore.

But when I was done, I felt very satisfied. The mental agitation had served me well, because the whole thing had gotten done in record time. And the difference in the garden is astonishing, visually. I didn’t take any “before” pictures, but last summer this whole area had been covered with grasses and coneflowers, peonies, irises, columbines, daylilies, and much more.

And it’s always a race in February and early March to get this bed cleared out before the daffodils, bloodroots, and others get too high and fragile. So this year, I did pretty good.

It is nice to see all the shoots coming up, the red peony buds, the little green triangles of new iris leaves, the little tufts of star-of-Bethlehem, and the paradoxically pinkish-green new growth of the columbines.

And of course with it opened up again, it is easy to see the garter snakes who live in this area. As with other parts of our yard, they love to sunbathe and hunt for bugs on this terrace. I think at least a few of them overwintered in burrows under the rocks in this bed. I’ve been enjoying them as they emerge from hibernation.

All week now, since I cleared out the bed, I’ve been attracted to it. Whenever I go outside for something, even just getting in and out of the car, I walk over to the wall and peer around, enjoying the view of new growth, and looking for those cute snakes. And I usually see one or two.

There’s been one, in particular, that’s remarkable. It’s a smaller garter snake, and the first time I saw him (it could be a “her”; I don’t know), he was in a loose curl under a rock ledge. He was slow. I poked him gently and he suddenly writhed, opened his pink mouth wide, and waved his gaping head all around, like a blind snake vowing to strike everywhere at once.

Maybe he was cold, or maybe in need of shedding. I don’t know. But I let him be. I’ve seen him a few times since then. The garter snakes are so tame in early spring, when they’re getting used to the new year, at the borderline of “just warm enough to be active,” and it seems like they haven’t had their coffee yet. I took some pictures of the little guy.

But Friday afternoon, I discovered him in the street. Unmarked, apparently uninjured, but dead. It’s a mystery. Did a snake-phobic, ignorant, hateful passerby spy him and fling him hard onto the pavement? Or did he get himself out into the street, then get injured just bad enough to do him in? Did a neighbor cat get him?

I was saddened, whatever happened. I picked him up and positioned him back next to the rocks that were his home and refuge. I am hoping that, well, an opossum or some other critter will happen by in the night and decide that a freshly deceased garter snake is good eatin’.

But I didn’t look out there today, because it would have made me sadder if I’d seen him exposed there by the rock, so still, even for a snake, a wet black ribbon, staring at the rainclouds, collecting sleet in the folds of his body.

How quickly everything can change, from hibernation to life to death, and from winter to spring to winter . . . to soon it will be spring again.

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