Ruth Bass: Spring is sprung, but winter may still say 'Boo!'


RICHMOND — The daffodils must be in need of therapy. Quite a few clumps of them started their journey into sunlight in November and, without snow, have been suffering for weeks with over-exposure to the serious chill that has periodically whacked the Berkshires this year.

They don't show signs of depression, however. A few shoots are brown on top, but the rest have their usual green-spear look, and they are popping up with a lot of energy considering that the Ides of March are not yet upon us.

In contrast, the snowdrops look cheery. They sometimes bloom as early as February, and they have other endearing qualities. They spread without being invasive, they don't mind being dug up and divided at any time, and they provide optimism in the face of brown lawns and shabby flower gardens.

March is the month when it's better to re-read the happy seed catalogues and study gardening magazines. The real world has mole hills in the lawn, leaves in the culverts, sticks under the maple trees and hydrangeas hanging dreary heads. The yard in March is far nicer when it's snow-covered.

Without the white stuff, all that did not get done in October looks accusingly at the gardener, and a little warmth in the air requires that person to rein in all impulses to put on the gloves, grab the tools and get at the mess. Remember that March has hosted legendary storms. Supposedly New England had a five-foot snowfall in 1717 (hardly a man is now alive who remembers that famous year); another five feet in 1888; and one that many remember, some 25 inches in 1997. It's too early to uncover anything.

We all have favorite snow stories. My grandson's parents were probably a little dismayed when I told him the snow was so deep in Lewiston, Maine, in 1956 that I and others in my dorm jumped off the porch roof into a giant snow bank. (It was afternoon, we were non-drinkers, and it wasn't a party.) Apparently we were suffering a bit from what had turned into a very long winter. Luckily, since it was a pretty dumb thing to do, we suffered no injuries. Said grandson is wintering on that same campus now.

But the family store of snow lore was never better than when the big storm came in May. Happily asleep, we were roused by a Southern drawl at our door informing us that it was snowing like crazy outside and the lights in her room didn't work. It was 6 a.m., and we figured our San Antonio sister-in-law was hallucinating or had serious jet lag. But it was true, all too true. Her news flash instantly buried all the plans for her visit — we went into survival mode for food and heat.

The optimists call these late, capricious storms poor man's fertilizer. It's hard to know whether that started because farmers needed to take some positive stance in the face of an unexpected delay in planting. But people have been saying it for generations, and it actually contains some truth. Spring snow, like rain, drops a little nitrogen on the soil, and plants need it to thrive. But it's also true that even if poor, gardeners will need more nitrogen than a spring storm brings.

Speaking of legends and lore, if this is truly spring, it's also Punxutawny Phil's year to brag about his brilliance.

Ruth Bass is a former Sunday editor of The Eagle. Her web site is


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