First crocuses

This year, the crocuses have bloomed in Newton about a week later than last year, but more or less on schedule with the year before.

First crocuses

Whenever the first crocuses bloom, it’s a long awaited cause for celebration: yet another sign that winter is waning and spring is on the way. The appearance of the first crocus is such an important annual event, I no longer leave it to chance, stalking those spots where I know crocuses have bloomed in the past and awaiting their arrival like a longtime friend.

This year, I’d worried that this particular patch of crocuses–typically the first to bloom in my corner of Newton–wouldn’t show up at all, since the trees that usually shelter them were cut down last summer. It turns out, though, that slumbering bulbs are more resilient than I thought, sleeping right through the earth-shaking toppling of trees and blooming in spring regardless.


Clicking through a batch of photos he’d taken on Sunday’s sunny afternoon walk, J paused at a picture of a crocus. “I have so many pictures of this kind of flower on the frame already!”

White and gold

I know the feeling. Every year, I can’t stop myself from taking pictures of blooming crocuses, glowing daffodils, and unfurling tree leaves even though I have countless images of these things already. If you’ve seen one pretty flower picture, you’ve seen them all, right? It turns out the answer is no. Every year, I forget how thrilling it is to see the first crocuses, daffodils, and fresh green leaves of spring. After the gray days of winter, it’s intoxicating to see color again, and it’s exciting to realize we’ve survived to enjoy another spring. Seeing this year’s round of crocuses is like reuniting with old friends: “Oh, welcome back! Isn’t it great we all made it through another year?”

Extreme closeup

On Saturday, I chatted with our across-the-street neighbor, who was working in his yard for the first time this year, and we compared how our basements had fared in the recent rains. On Monday morning, I talked with another neighbor who was lining up branch-filled trash bins in front of her house, a spring harvest of winter blow-downs. “Everyone will be putting out yard waste today!” she remarked, and I agreed: this weekend’s weather was perfect for gardening, spring cleanup, or just walking around the block, with several youngsters having already set up the first lemonade stand of the season for the throngs of Sunday baby-strollers, dog-walkers, and joggers. It’s good to see everyone survived another winter.

Fall crocus

The Red Sox’ season ended yesterday, so today I switched my Red Sox cap for my Celtics one. Fall is definitely here, and fast-tracking to winter. Along with a white-throated sparrow, this morning I heard a Carolina wren singing, a weird auditory juxtaposition of winter and summer sounds.


It occurs to me that I don’t really consider fall to be a season in its own right: it’s merely the pause between seasons. Just as New England doesn’t have a proper spring, only a few weeks of muddy, buggy thaw between cold and hot, autumn is a transitional time here, a span of days for gearing down and ramping up.

Fall clothes are merely a dress-rehearsal for winter layers, and the visual palette of the season is simply a muted version of summer splendor, as if Nature turned a dimmer switch on the florid tones of July and August. The scarlet and gold shimmering from trees these days is merely a muted form of cardinal flower and goldenrod, and fall crocuses are but a wan imitation of spring ones. Autumn exists because even Nature can’t simply slam on the brakes and stop: she has to ease out of summer fecundity like a pen gradually going dry.

Fall is when we begin to practice the art of nostalgia, coming into slow realization that summer joys are going, going, gone. The fairs and festivals of fall–the apple-picking and pumpkin-carving and festive football games–all merely delay the inevitable. Fall is the season for closing up shop, for pulling up stakes, and for hunkering down. The riot of fall foliage is one last hurrah for a season already dead and a colorful harbinger for cold days already in the wings.

Bee on crocus

Being busy isn’t bad if what you’re doing is worthwhile. I snapped this photo on my way home from campus yesterday, after a full teaching day. “Full” is the word I prefer over “busy.” “Busy” suggests hectic commotion, and “full” suggests the satisfaction of having enough: the sense of accomplishment you feel at the end of a productive day, like a bee heavy with pollen flying home to its hive.

Finally, crocuses!

Some folks carefully tend their own gardens; as for me, I watch the leaves of others. After spotting the season’s first snowdrops several weeks ago, I’ve been stalking crocus buds, vowing to be on hand the moment they opened. Sure enough, yesterday’s sun was enough to push these petals toward blooming…and just as surely, today’s gray has forced them to fold. Such is the nature of spring’s ephemera: here yesterday, gone today.

Once again, the picture illustrating today’s blog-post was the inspiration for today’s Tweet, illustrating the way these two media (blogging in both micro and macro modes) can feed one another.

The time-traveler in me also wants to note that this year’s first crocuses appeared a few days before last year’s.

Fall crocuses

This weekend, mere steps from the spot where I saw the spring’s first crocuses, I spotted the first wan crocuses of autumn. Yes, crocuses and other presumably “spring” flowers sometimes bloom a second time at summer’s end, spurred by the stimulus of dwindling daylight. Right now, with darkness arriving earlier each evening, we have roughly the same number of daylight hours as we did in the spring, when days were lengthening.

Fall crocuses

This, our second spring, is the mirror image of the first. The crocuses of spring are hearty and hale, the better to fend off chilly nights and lingering snow. The crocuses of autumn are feeble and tenuous, with pale coloring and an almost wax-like translucence. These are ghost flowers–the wispy afterthoughts of now-dormant growth–and they look the part. Their stems nearly drained of chlorophyll, these sprouts are anemic, the last hurrahs of plants who have upended their proverbial chairs on tables, ready to close up metabolic shop for the season.

The crocuses of New England’s first spring are a promise of lush and fecund days to come; the crocuses of our second spring are a whispered memory of dwindling days: nature’s first memento mori of fall.


Just in time for Easter, yesterday I spotted the first crocuses of spring, blooming along the leaf-littered edge of the same yard where I’d spotted this year’s first snowdrops. What better metaphor of resurrection do you need than the poking of fresh new flowers out of last year’s dead leaves?


This afternoon, J and I tackled our own portion of last year’s dead leaves: one last batch of autumn that an early snowfall had left buried on J’s yard for the winter. Raking last year’s leaves from under one of J’s shrubs, I found snowdrops blooming there, too, completely buried in leaves. What sort of faith–what kind of tenacity–inspires a flower to bloom without ever having seen the light of day?

Spring in New England feels a bit like that as you move forward toward a season you can’t completely see: “This,” you tell yourself, “is the direction I remember spring as being.” Earlier tonight, our yard-work done, J and I took a sundown stroll and remarked on all the leaf-bags we saw lined in front of neighbors’ houses: on a mild March weekend, everyone’s been out raking and bagging that last batch of hitherto buried autumn. There’s a good deal of faith–a tremendous amount of tenacity–in that endeavor, too: an unspoken hope that if you uncover the cold, winter-blanched earth, the soon-to-be-spring sun will awaken life from the dead.