This is hope. Fat at the bottom. Pointed and slender at the top. It’s wrapped in onion skin and a little bit dirty. I am angry at it. “I don’t believe in Spring any more,” I tell it. I look around as if to prove my point; the trees are bare and somehow an old paper cup has escaped the trash can and is slowly dissolving into the lawn next to the bed where the bulbs will spend the winter. The crepe myrtles reach frantically skyward with their bare rust colored arms, as if they died of fright. That misshapen red bud that has to lean away from the clutch of the cedars just to breathe is bare as well; grabbing my hat with its skeleton hands whenever I walk past it to go to the barn. The leaves are morphing into dirt under the naked trees or becoming paper shadows of themselves. It is, of course, cold. Barely above freezing. The universe conspires to make sure the only days I can plant bulbs are either cold or wet….and always, always windy.
The bulb stares blankly at me, a bit of green showing at its delicate neck, because I have waited too long to plant it. “I should be working.” I say rudely to it. The light is waning this time of year and I have to sneak out to bury it under the butterfly bush while I should be working in my nice warm office. It is one bulb and I still have 300 of its brothers and sisters to plant. The white skin shows under the peeling, papery skin and it gleams a little in the gray day. It is ugly and plain except for those green shoots, which fill me with shame at my own procrastination. There are weeds in the dirt, evergreen and tough. I have to dig them out before I can plant the bulb. I hurt my knee on a small rock and say a rude word. I cut the wet brown dirt with a garden knife, slashing and then twisting, moving small rocks, digging for wild onion bulbs. I cut an earthworm and apologize. The knife hits a something solid and makes a terrible grating sound. I grunt and dig around it, finally shifting it. It’s a brown and jagged rock as big as my hand. I am trying to dig carefully around the roots of my apricot roses, which also look shriveled and sad; they no longer believe in the Spring either. Before I place the bulb in the ground, I stare at it. I pick up the mesh bag and read the paper label stapled to it. Pink Margarita. That sounds rather frivolous on a day like this. I cannot think how the pink and yellow tulip will look. Pink and yellow are not appropriate to this twilit universe. Pink Margarita tulips in this winter world seem as out of place as clowns at a funeral. There is something too absurd about this whole thing.
I look at the bed, trying to get some idea of spring, trying to remember the point of this exercise. I can’t remember how the branches of the little peach trees look when they are covered with buds. The butterfly bushes hold out brown panicles, corroded by the cold. What’s left of the hyacinth bean is somehow dry and limp at the same time, snaking off the arbor at an absurd angle, dangling its crusty little pods overhead. I sigh and squeeze the bulb into the dirt channel, rubbing off some of its delicate skin accidentally, and I cover it with the rough, red-brown dirt. To make up for my previous rudeness, I ask it politely to please come up in the spring and to do its best not to become lunch for a squirrel. I plant as many as I can before dark.
When I come back to the porch, I am cold. My ears hurt. My coat is covered with dirt. Even though I wore gloves, there is dirt under my fingernails. My shoes are muddy. My knee is bruised and my back hurts. I am grumpy. I still have bulbs left to plant. I stare at their little green tops. The little funny looking green tops sticking out of the fat bottomed, hairy rooted bottoms, looking for the sun. That’s hope I guess. I go in for coffee and a bath.
I drove through the dark last night and the fog was on the move, like an army of ghosts. It wasn’t a sit down, settling fog, moving in with a steady purpose. It was one of those fogs that swirled itself into a solid cloud that totally obscured the moon soaked farms on either side one minute and broke into solitary wraiths the next, each with a different mournful aspiration, uncertain as to the path down which its hopes might hide. Amusing antics, but I was in no hurry to join their ranks so it was a bit of a harrowing drive. Here’s the road; now it’s gone, a funny joke for the specters of the fog, not so funny for me.
But this morning the joke was on them. It seems last night that the circus of ghostly fog finally exhausted itself and settled in the trees for a bit of a rest after the performance. It was caught napping by the cold and when the sun woke it up this morning it found it had been transformed from a shifting, dancing troupe of performing ghosts into a mere embellishment for the trees, solid, stiff and fixed in place, an embarrassing position for a group of specters. Trees that yesterday were mere skeletons of themselves, that were nothing the eye could settle on, were suddenly bursting like clouds behind the small tacky buildings on the main strip, glittering, white, filled out almost as big as summer with leaves of ice. Tops of houses and even the little strip shops were coated with white. Dead grass was as sharp and crystalline as icicles. From behind the concrete walls of the bridge, frosty branches hung over the Elk River as it splashed over the rocks like liquid ice. Everything glittered like Fairyland iced with the frozen ghosts. For a few minutes, it looked as though Walmart and Sonic and that ugly building covered with blue tarp at the end of the street might have wandered into some land of enchantment by mistake, as if they might be the ephemeral, endangered species instead of the trees. I thought maybe the plain and dirty buildings might feel just a little ashamed and disappear. But the sun kept rising and getting stronger and the ghostly cloud began to wake up and pull itself together, ashamed of being caught earthbound and now it is lifting itself again and leaving, Walmart and Sonic and Marvin’s and Krystal are sighing with relief to be back in the “real” world, and the ghosts, I assume are going back home or still searching for whatever it is that a flock of ghosts might be searching for.