A title is a promise, or so I hear in writing circles. If that’s so, then this one, I’m telling you, has been broken for a long time. I’ve waited for warm dirt since last November when the first wet snow fell, and I’ve waited in earnest — and in vain — since the beginning of March. No dice.
Let me be clear: Spring in the Northwest is excruciating. Not crisp or cool or refreshing. Not even gloomy or depressing. Excruciating. The weeks between the last snow and the first flower stretch out endless as a Kansas interstate, interminable as a dentist appointment where the guy leaves you in a room with your jaw wedged open and then just forgets about you. Only worse. Because, in this case, there’s always a tease. You look out the window after a long spell of gray, maybe six weeks of drizzle, and you see the sun. The sun! You step outside — bundled in a wool coat and hat — and the wind blows fierce but you don’t care. You turn your face upwards only to see clouds rush in — from where? — to obscure the light.
John Denver had a song called “Late Winter, Early Spring (When Everyone Goes to Mexico).” Sometimes I remember the slow plucking dullness of that tune and think that’s how this feels, except that it’s mid-spring now not early spring, and anyway what was the name of that album? “Rocky Mountain High.” Colorado. 300+ days of sun a year. OK, OK, I admit it. My problem may stem from the fact that I grew up in Southern California, where we started swim practice outdoors the first week in February. The tradeoffs you get for living in the North Cascades rather than Greater LA are worth it, I know: clean air and solitude, green trees, waterfalls, and in summer, the high country. And it’s Lent anyway, I tell my formerly Catholic self, time to wait it out, cultivate patience.
Instead, I decide in late March to move to Arizona.
Seriously. I decided just that, emphatically, last week, when family obligations landed Laurie and me in Phoenix next to a swimming pool. Never mind that the hotel was surrounded by a Cracker Barrel, a riverbed littered with shopping carts and a thousand car dealerships. It was warm. Maybe there was no warm dirt, but there was plenty of warm cement, and that seemed good enough. I didn’t decide to move to Phoenix — I’m not yet that far gone — but Flagstaff, for sure, high dry and sunny. I was sure about it.
There’s always a today, every single year. But I forget until it’s here: full sun, green grass, tiny shoots of tiger lilies, lupine, columbine, glacier lilies, water leaf, balsamroot. None of it flowering. Not yet. But the promise is enough. And, yes, the dirt is warm, sun-soaked and smelling strong. I walked the gravel road this afternoon, skipping across potholes, in shirtsleeves, and, back home, I lay in the dirt and the fir needle duff among saw chips like confetti from a winter limbing project and brown maple leaves, dry as crepe paper, twitching in the breeze, and I stared straight into the sun.