I know, I just wrote about the weather last week, but it sure is on my mind at this time of the year.
Are you staying warm this weekend? Probably not, because we are in the midst of one of my favorite weather phenomenons, one of the many winters of spring.
These cold snaps are not something that most people want to celebrate; most of us are darn ready for the warm breezes of springtime and prefer to forget the colder days of winter. I do agree that it is time to move on, but there is something so quaint and comforting about these cold snaps that were long ago named, can always be counted on, and yet can never be perfectly predicted.
If you are a gardener, you are currently playing the Russian roulette of deciding when it is safe to put out your tomatoes and other summertime vegetables. It is the great debate within my gardening circles, and every year we each decide according to what feels right to us, and that is rarely the same for one as it is for another.
A general rule of thumb is that anytime after Easter is a safe bet, but of course, you can’t exactly count on that.
My neighbor at the South Rome Community Garden already has his tomatoes in the ground but I, personally, will wait a while longer. He is always a step or two ahead of me, as I tend to be a bit of a lazy gardener, not to mention always late.
But, I also believe in the certainty of these cold snaps of folklore fame, and I take them quite seriously. His plants will probably be fine, mind you, mostly because he will do what it takes to protect them, and he will probably be pulling tomatoes a couple of weeks ahead of me, but I’ll stick to what feels good to me.
You’ll notice that the dogwood trees started blooming just in time for this current cold snap, hence its common name of “Dogwood Winter.” It is also sometimes referred to as “Redbud Winter” because the redbud trees happen to be blooming now, too.
I’ve often wondered which comes first, the winter or the blooms, but this year the redbuds have been blooming for a while and the dogwoods around me began blooming last week.
The next winter spell we can count on but never predict will be “Blackberry Winter.” In my experience in many years of watching for this one, the blackberry vines are almost always blooming exactly in time with the drop in temps, making it the most absolute in my book. When the next cold snap comes, look for those blackberry vines and see if you don’t find the first blooms opening, with lots of buds ready to follow.
The funniest one of all the potential cold snaps is the last one, which goes by numerous very funny names. It can happen as late as mid-May and is referred to as “Long Britches Winter” or “Linen Britches Winter” or “Linsey-Woolsey Britches Winter,” depending on where you live. All three names, though, refer to the last date on which you will feel the need to wear long, warm britches to bed. It can also be called “Stump Winter,” since it is considered the last date on which you will feel the need to put another stump on the fire.
The Farmer’s Almanac says that this last one is typically the coldest snap, which is exactly what got us last year. We put our tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and squashes in the ground on April 28 and ended up losing a few to this last frost in May.
When I was in high school chorus, we sang the John Rutter rendition of the song “Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind,” an adaptation of a William Shakespeare song from the play “As You Like It.” I think of it every time the cold wind of winter sweeps in on a tear through our springtime warmth. The first verse reads:
Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
Thou art not so unkind
As man’s ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because thou art not seen,
Although thy breath be rude.
While that isn’t necessarily something you might have heard, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only chorus nerd who has that song burned in their brain.
It is a truly haunting and beautiful song, and there is something so appropriate about those words on a crisp and blustery cold snap kind of day.
These days, I must admit that I also feel the truth behind that second section. Is there ever a winter bluster that is as unkind as man’s ingratitude?
I love this comparison, as we can be so bitterly cutting towards each other at times, and the sharp cut of an icy wind, while painful, is never as hurtful as unkind words on the weary soul.
This weekend, as we celebrate Easter and the sureness of spring and the summer ahead, perhaps we can also remember that we have the power to dull the cutting edge of our words and thoughts towards each other.
The winter winds of another cold snap or two will most definitely blow in our future, of this I am certain. But we hold the key to our gratitude, or lack thereof, in the way we behave towards each other.
Prepare to once more break out those long, linsey-woolsey britches for a cold winter night and throw another stump on the fire one last time in the coming weeks. But when it comes to the warmth that you bring to those around you, buck up and remember that a bit of kindness goes a long way to sooth a frigid heart.
May our many winters towards each other be gone for good!