Gretchen Staebler Commentary: It’s Good to See a Northwest Spring Again

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I left the Pacific Northwest as my life was teetering on the leading edge of summer. I was 24 and ready for adventure. With my new husband, I was heading out to tour the country in our homegrown camper-retrofitted VW bus. It was 1976 and the country was celebrating its bicentennial. 

At the end of our Great Adventure we were moving to the other edge of the continent, where we would bounce between the mid-South and the deep South, though we didn’t know it yet. At the end of May the trees were greening, flowers were beginning their bloom, birds were nesting. I didn’t know it would be 37 years before I saw another Washington spring.

I am not a fan of Southern seasons, except for spring. Spring in the South is magnificent. It begins early, when children (and me) are still hoping for a renegade snowstorm. As the air warmed, weekends found me in the garden: looking for the hostas to poke up out of the hard earth; for the sedum and new shoots from the banana tree to emerge from last year’s frozen stalks; for buds on the brown hydrangea canes that I took for dead the first year; for the pansies I planted in October to come out of hibernation and grow into the spaces. I watched to see if the Lenten rose would begin blooming at the beginning of Lent or hold off until Palm Sunday.

The dogwood began its step-dance toward glory. First the bud, then petals that take their sweet time opening and then turn snow white and take on bragging rights. The shy redbuds edge in between the dogwood along the interstates, and the azaleas try their best to steal the show. I am not a fan of azaleas 11 months out of the year, but when the blazing scarlet and orange, the demure pink, the deep purple are flashing their stuff in yards across the city, it is good to be alive.

All of this to say, in my three and a half decades away I never returned to the PNW in the spring. I came in the winter for Christmas. I came in the summer because I despise the Southern heat — and summer is glory time in this corner of the land. I came in the fall because summer goes on and on in the South as I waited impatiently to turn off the air conditioning. But spring in North Carolina is not to be missed. And so, in the autumn of my life now, this will be my first one here since my 24-year-old self moved from spring into summer several lifetimes ago.

I went out looking for signs of spring on Friday. It was a spectacular cloudless day, Mount St. Helens shouting out against the blue sky. I found fairy angel choir clusters of tiny snowdrops. A solitary yellow wild strawberry blossom. Half-a-dozen reticent blooms on the espaliered forsythia. Tiny crocuses peek up cautiously just above ground level. The leaf buds on the flowering quince are a little bigger and one of the daffodils has a swollen top. There are tiny buds climbing the stems of the chrysanthemums that should have been cut down after the first frost.

As I write it is raining again, the misty almost-can’t-see-it rain. It’s what makes summer here a gloriosity, when it finally comes sometime in July. I look forward to rediscovering this forgotten season in my new old home; I just might have to look a little harder for it and wait a little longer.

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Gretchen Staebler has lived in three eastern states since membership in the first graduating class from the new Centralia High School, Class of 1970. She writes a weekly blog called, “My View from the Garden” at myviewfromthegarden.blogspot.com.

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