What a great time of year this is, Spring, so full of promise and wonder. I found it difficult to narrow down what I like best about the season, not the least of which is Cinco de Mayo (one of the anniversaries my husband and I share, plus another great excuse to eat Mexican food). Here are ten of my favorite springtime indicators… what are yours?
- More Daylight
I live up north at approximately 48° latitude, which means the vernal equinox is a much-celebrated event amongst the local gardeners, chicken farmers, and bush hippies alike. Bright, beautiful, glorious spring! Idaho panhandle winters tend toward mostly cloudy skies with intermittent snow and rain, leaving a multitude of chuckholes and mud whomps to deal with. Many a savvy mountain gal owns a pair of dress Wellies for this muddy transition between winter and summer, but who cares? The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and it's finally spring.
- Buttercups, the earliest wildflower
This time of year I take a special detour on my way home from town, just to see if the buttercups have begun to bloom. It's along a crumbling stretch of the old highway, with south-facing cliffs overlooking the lake and the shadowy Monarch Mountains on the other side. Sometimes the cliffs "weep" with spring run-off, where, on a verdant mossy bench, tiny yellow flowers constellate the lush landscape. It is so worth taking the long way home.
- Snakes, frogs, and turtles
I'm very fortunate that I live where all the snakes are friendly and non-poisonous. Our garden area has been home to a garter snake family for at least ten years; I don't know how long their actual lifespan is, but the babies keep showing up each spring, with Big Mama toolin' around and through and under the raised beds with the greatest of ease. The snakes eat insects that might eat our veggies, so they are most welcome. Out near the creek bottoms, the cacophony of frog song in the evening is another welcome spring event, as is the appearance of turtles basking on logs in the slow-flowing side-channel of the river; I have to be careful not to drive my truck off the road craning my neck to see them.
- Baby animals, including ducklings and goslings.
Let's face it, even a baby moo-cow is cute. And seeing the fuzzy baby ducks paddling behind their mama is sheer delight, while the co-parenting activities of the Canada goose offer much food for thought in terms of commitment and dedication.
- Fruit trees in bloom, with bees
There is nothing more exhilarating than the sight of an apple orchard abloom with lovely fragrant, pink-white flowers, honeybees happily buzzing from one flower to the next; bumblebees get in on the action as well. Even the wild hillsides are covered with blooming serviceberry bushes, and if you're very still, and listen very quietly, you'll hear the all-pervading hum of those black-and-yellow anomalies performing a most needful service to the trees—pollination. Without bees, those apples would be far and few between. Flowers need bees as much as bees need flowers—and we need 'em both.
- Wild spring greens, especially nettles
Now is the time to feast on all the wild greens you can get your mitts on—they're everywhere. The easiest to identify include dandelion greens, violet leaf, miner's lettuce (both kinds), chickweed, lamb's quarters, and, in some locations, fiddlehead ferns. Heading the list is nettles—that's right, stinging nettles. Carefully harvested with gloved hands, leaves and tender tops are torn into an enameled pan to cook down into a tasty, vibrant, nutritious mess o' greens—yes ma'am! The sting cooks out, my friends, and you may as well pick a few bunches to hang and dry for using over the winter (I know it's spring, but this is the only time nettles are good to pick for eating).
Freshly snapped and munched down raw… lightly steamed as a filling for omelets and crepes… cut, blanched and marinated in a flavorful salad vinaigrette… tempura-dipped and fried… pickled spears for that Bloody Mary bruncheon… is there anything this quintessential spring vegetable can't do?
- Gardening has begun in earnest
Sure, we started pepper seedlings and perennial herbs way back in February, and managed to loosen the soil in the large barrel planters for growing early Asian greens. But the real work of the garden season has just begun. Turning, composting, planting, mulching, weeding; it's all a labor of love. And the best darn food you'll ever eat. Grow something good to eat. Grow something pretty to look at. We all have that sparkle of creation inside us, and you can do it if you try.
- Rejuvenation and renewal
It's what Spring is all about, Charlie Brown. It's about opening windows, cleaning house, and taking dandelion root tonic. It's about resurrection and rebirth, Easter and Ostara, Queen of the May, Lord of the Wild, Pan pipes trilling in the distance. It's about ee cummings's "Chanson Innocent" and Sylvia Plath's "Mushrooms," which brings me, finally, to one of the greatest and most ephemeral harvests to grace a spring risotto…
- Morel mushrooms
Pardon me whilst I dab the tears from my eyes, for I have become nostalgic and quivering at the very thought of these unique and flavorful fungi. My mom makes the best fried morels I have ever eaten; yep, that snazzy city girl from Chicago learned from the old-timers here in Idaho when to look, where to look, and how to properly harvest these mighty meaty mushrooms. She deftly rolls them in seasoned flour and fries them ever-so-crisp in an electric frying pan, and are best served hot from the skillet. Then again, lightly sautéed with garlic and added to the above-mentioned risotto, baked into savory gratins, dried for winter soups and stews, you'll always find folks around here ambling about like hobbits with their nose toward the ground, searching for that strangely pitted mushroom cap that can resemble pine cones, dried ferns, or even sun-bleached deer droppings in the right light. But once you find them, once you recognize them, you will know them forever, so distinctive is their appearance, so delicious is their flavor. Do me a favor, look for them in your own neck of the woods, and don't come looking for them in mine.
Aside from always thinking from my stomach, a few other things I like about spring, but had to hold back on for brevity's sake, include fresh chives, spinach, johnny jump-ups, hyacinths, eggs, compost, robins, and yard sales (did I mention Cinco de Mayo?). I'm sure you have your own springtime inspirations and celebrations. The best part is, it's all good.