Every year it’s the same: as temperatures start creeping up, offering reassurance that winter is winding down, I start obsessing over color. This is a spring thing for many of us living in the world’s temperate zones, I suppose, but I can’t help but feel there’s something slightly dysfunctional about my preoccupation.
Don’t get me wrong: I appreciate the subtle polychrome of the land during our six or seven months of floral dormancy. The parchment tan of the grasslands, the shadowed green of the conifers, the marbled gray of rock outcrops and leafless shrubs: these are the earth tones interior designers promote for calming spaces. The colors are subtle, not flashy or saturated. Easy on the eyes. Browns and grays and tans and muted greens evoke feelings of warmth, of durability, of being grounded. Such shades coordinate with any pop of color you might want to throw into the mix.
Which is part of my problem, come April. I’m always ready for some flash, some gaudiness. I’m impatient for the emerald gleam of new grass, for the cheerful bubble of buds and the ostentatious fling of petals, for the lime-green exuberance of leaves just unfolding. Give me hot pink bling, outrageous yellow, sexy purple, flaming orange, romantic lavender!
Planting more bulbs in the garden would help, no doubt. Safe from browsing ungulates and digging rodents, crocuses, tulips, and daffodils announce the seasonal shift with bright petals and fanciful forms.
As cheerful as they are, the sunny daffodil trumpets and cute tulip cups and candy-like grape hyacinth are dots and spots, confined within a wall. The color I’m wanting is large-scale, expansive, horizon wide. The earth tones are lovely, but I’ve been looking at them since October.
Such is life in the high country, I tell myself; The season is young.
And that’s true. It’s still early for botanical pop and flair: the wildflower season around here doesn’t coincide with the start-and-stop thaws of spring. If I want floral fanfare at 8900 feet, I’m just going to have to wait until July, when temperatures are warm and water can be expected to fall from the sky with some regularity, dropping out of the fat gray bellies of summer thunderstorms.
As the long brown winter continues yielding to a long brown spring, that water from the sky is the missing link. The land isn’t just muted and subtle, it’s desiccated. My vernal fantasies seek dewy softness and the tender spring of leaf and stem, but what I’ve got is puffs of dust and brittle grasses and parched air. I have to prod myself to feel grateful awe at the stubborn resolve of returning bluebirds and soaring red-tailed hawks. Despite the thin green lines that are beginning to poke up through the crisp straws of old grass, my mind thinks “tinder,” not “tender.”
I’ve been spoiled by a few years’ worth of well-timed precipitation, which kept fire weather at bay. Now, though, the familiar pangs of anxiety are back. Coping with elevated fire danger literally comes with the territory around here, but I’m struggling with the early onset of this year’s fire season. Resigning myself to mitigation chores and a preparedness mindset when nighttime temperatures are still dipping into the teens on a regular basis is just plain harsh.
The droughty weather complicates my relationships to everything. The thrill of watching elk or wild turkeys comes with a pang, wondering what challenges they’ll face as the season wears on. I walk into the garden, smile at the flowering bulbs, and then sigh, wondering what I’ll do in a few weeks: plant vegetables, or succumb to creeping worry about how our water well will fare if it stays so dry. If so, I’ll plant nothing and water just enough to keep the established perennials alive.
As grass and brush fires flare on the plains to the east and south, I realize my fixation on vibrant colors is fading, replaced by a preoccupation with precipitation. Instead of pining for signs of spring outside, I go looking for the promise of ongoing winter in my office, calling up the weather website on my computer multiple times a day.
I’ve been watching a storm system in the forecast for more than a week now. Instead of hope surging at the song of a robin or the petite yellow petals of a cinquefoil blossom, I feel its expectant tingle when the graph showing a better-than-seventy-percent chance of snow ratchets forward one more day.
A single storm won’t do us much good, not long term. But the thought of water falling from the sky sizzles on my mind’s fevered brow, promising to cool my anxiety. A little bit. For now.