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Published March 17, 2009, 12:00 AM

Hope of spring

It’s been a winter like the ones we had when I was kid. At least four times this year,

By: Tony Bender, The Dickinson Press

It’s been a winter like the ones we had when I was kid. At least four times this year, we have barricaded ourselves for days in our country home with the pantry well-stocked and watched the drifts in our shelterbelt grow 12-feet high. Some days, it looks like another planet.

Dylan and India haven’t minded much when the road gets impassable and they call off school. And I haven’t minded hunkering down, either, knowing barely a soul is moving around town. I’m not missing much at the office. The phone doesn’t ring.

But it has been wearying, a mournful time. More so this year than in the 50 winters I have endured before, I yearn for spring. Somewhere beneath the ditches filled with snow, the grass is stirring and waiting to become green again, and that keeps me going. I keep remembering how beautiful the drive to town is. If I close my eyes, I can smell that first cutting of hay, see the frisky bucks of the calves in the pasture.

I have my memories and I have my hope.

I know spring is coming because the seed catalogues have come in the mail. The Redhead wonders if she should try magnolia trees again. She really loves magnolia blossoms. Last year, she asked around to see if any nursery had any. They didn’t, so I gallantly spent $120 on two hardy sprigs that catalogue optimistically declared could flourish in North Dakota. I guess the good thing about such tragic — if predictable — endings is when a plant dies; I don’t feel obliged to bury it. “Maybe, this year things will be different,” The Redhead says, and they will. For one thing, it will be her $120 this year.

I miss our lazy summer morning routine. There’s no school bus to drive our schedule. I wake to the chirping of birds and a fresh pot of coffee. The Redhead is waiting on the deck with her laptop. By then, she’s watered the plants in the yard and topped off the ponds. For a few short months, she nurtures plants and grasses. And these few acres are tamed.

Our dog, Karma, lies at our feet, ready to press her snout into us with any encouragement at all. She’s older now and not quite so… spastic. The trees we planted years ago provide a perch for the goldfinches. Sometimes, it looks like a tree filled with canaries. I wonder what language they use to tell the others the bird feeders are full.

Maybe it was the weeding I did in my mom’s garden that helped me decide long ago gardening wasn’t my thing. But that was before winters got so long. The older you get, the slower time moves in the winter. And summer, I swear, you could sleep right through it.

I guess only time can open our eyes to some things. Until this winter, I never quite understood the joy my grandmother took in her garden. She dressed in patched jeans, a flowered blouse and a straw hat that could shade a small state. The earth was fertile and partially shaded and the vegetables she brought back to the house in buckets were sweet and tender. I picture her now looking out at the snowdrifts from that lonely, brave farmhouse on the hill, imagining the garden she will plant. Without the promise of spring, winter would be unbearable.

I don’t know if the day will come when I can slow down enough to nurture seedlings, but I’ve slowed down enough to appreciate the ripening tomatoes I can pluck and eat. I can lean on the deck railing some days and gaze out over the sunflower fields that surround us some years. I hear music in the gurgle of the ponds and see poetry in the birds splashing in the birdbath. I see purpose in the bees and wonder in the hummingbirds and dragonflies.

The kids will plant things in odd places again this year. They grew squash and cucumbers around the ponds and a prolific tomato vine near the front door last season. None of the flowers will be coordinated in a conventional sense. India will choose what is pretty.

And in the end, I will find myself stopping the pickup when I approach the driveway so I can take in the green trees and lawn and give thanks for it all.

God bless the gardeners of this world.