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.