Touching the Winter Garden

“A garden offers, to those who accept it, a return to the touch-world of childhood.” – Allen Lacy in The Inviting Garden

Sure, in the growing seasons, when gloveless hands work the soil, nestle fragile-rooted seedlings into warm soil, pick new fruits from fresh green branches, but in winter? The touch-world of childhood?

I went for a walk around the garden to test it.

First it was just sound — bird chatter from Mr. and Mrs. Woodrow (the affectionate nicknames we have given a pair of Downy Woodpeckers in honor of Woody Woodpecker of cartoon fame) and arguments between sparrows. Then it was sight — I could see further into the neighborhood with the leaves down, watch Mr. and Mrs. Woodrow’s dipping flight into the trees, see the neighbor’s tarp-covered car behind a garage, see the shapes of trees and the interiors of plants, the tracery, the lacy stems, the beginnings of the winter aconites peeking up and unexpected flowers on the rosemary.

I could look through the ash tree’s branches from underneath and see into the top of the tree. I saw a small-bodied squirrel escaping into the highest branches to avoid four larger-bodied, amorous, pursuers. I chuckled over their frustration as she chattered her victory and they tumbled to lower, stronger branches. In summer, I hear such things, but in winter I get to see them as well. But touch?

So I refocused my attention, tried to think like a little kid. Then I felt the soft, spongy earth under my feet. It felt like I was walking in slippers. I took off my gloves. When I picked up an oddly shaped pile of wet leaves, I found a daffodil peeking out.

In winter there are few concerns about bugs or unexpected reptiles when sticking a hand into or under something in the garden. There are no stinging nettles to keep me from a close approach to my favorite trees, cottonwoods. In the summer cottonwood trees blow white, fluffy seeds everywhere, looking like summer snow. In the fall the slightest breeze makes them sound like rain. But now, when I put my hand on the trunk of cottonwood trees, open-palm, fingers pointing towards the top of the tree, I feel their strength. I hold my hand very still.

Cindy Briggs


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