Signs of Spring

I have a friend in Kentucky who is a tree nut. This is not unusual. A lot of people like trees. But his obsession with trees runs deep. He planted 600 trees one spring along his driveway in another state. He has made several trips back to that house over the years for the sole purpose of checking on “his” trees.

A person might go back to visit his former home. A walk down memory lane. This man drives out of his way just to visit his trees.

Ten years ago, he came to Georgia for a brief period as our preacher. He took the job mainly because, in the interview process, he found out that I have a tree farm and he saw the possibility that he could preach and also have access to trees.

I don’t mean to imply that he was a lowly opportunist. He had a great ministry here. But he also got trees in the deal.

“What do you have that nobody else wants?”

He would take the rejects; the trees that were twisted and crooked and that had broken limbs. He would plant them and nurse them along and make something of them. He wouldn’t admit it, but I’m pretty sure he named them and talked to them as he walked around his yard.

He fell in love with the Eastern Redbud in Georgia. The “harbinger of spring” he called it. He laughed at our Georgia winters. He grew up in Michigan City, Indiana on the southern tip of Lake Michigan. You could almost throw a rock and hit Chicago from his front yard. He had never seen a Redbud before.

Every spring I get a text from him. “Are the Redbuds blooming yet?” During his stay here he noticed those little pink flowers poking through the winter woodland edges along the highway. Nothing stirred his juices quite like the first appearance of the Eastern Redbud.

The Redbuds broke out strong in February this year. Which means that we got fooled. The harbinger of spring tanked in the early going because winter was not done with us. Those little pink flowers on naked branches were as wrong as the talking heads on ESPN who called for Alabama to win the NCAA basketball championship.

Sometimes the signs are wrong.

Another of the early warning signs is the planting of tomatoes. The calendar says that spring comes in March. The days start to warm up a bit. Maybe 75°. Some poor soul who is driven to have the first tomato of the year will go down to the feed and seed and come home with tomato plants. And the minute he puts them in the ground, he jinxes us all.

This year has been a real hoop-de-do of a spring.

I’ve seen it before. A million tender leaves emerge with hope only to be fried black by a late season freeze. Azaleas got toasted. Fringe trees got burned. The crepemyrtles were absolutely obliterated.

One of my landscape customers says to me in early March, “Boy, I’m glad spring is here.”

“We’re not done yet,” I respond.

“Oh yeah we are,” he says. “It’s too warm to turn back cold again.”

Welcome to late March at 27° and the Easter Sunrise service in April where the folding metal chairs were cold enough to make my cheeks chatter.

You wanna know the true signs of spring? Forget the vernal equinox. Forget the Farmer’s Almanac. And for gosh sakes don’t pay attention to the weatherman on TV.

Let me tell you how I know spring has arrived. There are two fool-proof signs on my list.

I know spring is here when I dress in four layers as I head out the door for work in the morning and by noon I’m down to my T-shirt. When the passenger seat of my truck has more sweatshirts and fleece jackets on it than I have hanging in my closet, it’s springtime.

I’ll carry half of my long-sleeved wardrobe around with me well into May. Along about Memorial Day, I figure it’s safe enough to clean out my truck and run my emergency clothes through the washer and put them away for the summer.

This is also a sign of fall weather in Georgia.

I also know it’s springtime when I can’t figure out what to do with my thermostat in the house. One day it’s 80° outside. It’s hot enough indoors when I get home from work that I turn on a little AC to cool things down. Once I knock the temp down, I’ll turn the thermostat off and open some doors and windows for the night.

Of course, I forget to consult the forecast before going to bed. The temperature drops to 37° by 5am. I’m shivering in bed. I’m confused about what day it is and I can see my breath in the air after I turn on the bathroom lights. Once I get my bearings, I close the windows and fumble my way over to the thermostat to turn on some heat.

This is spring in the south.

There are a lot of other subtle signs. Daffodils in late January. Bass boats in tow on the way to the lake in February. Lightning bugs courting in the late evening shadows of March. An uptick in sales of Zyrtec at the Dollar Store in April.

This is why spring is such a seasonal challenge and cannot be defined by a date on the calendar. We’ve got it all wrong if we think that spring is determined simply by the onset of warmer weather. People who are tired of winter in Georgia (and that’s a whole other story) complain constantly about the mad fluctuations in temperature.

“Why can’t it just warm up and stay warm?” they say. Ah, the naïve are everywhere.

“I put my jackets away two weeks ago. Good grief.” Rookie mistake. Just check the front passenger seat in my truck. We’re not there, yet.

“I wish this weather would just make up its mind.” Yeah, and I wish I could flatten this belly of mine with ice cream.

This morning, it was 44° when I left the house. It has been this way my whole life. Looks like it could be this way the rest of the week. I run the heat on the way to work. I ride with the windows down on my way home.

Personally, I like spring this way. I’m not ready to let go of the cooler weather for the sake of work. Moving and loading trees in August is brutal. But a little warm sunshine on my face and arms makes an old man feel new again.

My favorite sign of spring comes when the weather is good enough to sit out on my back porch on a Saturday morning drinking coffee. The birds are chirping. I’m watching the woodlands around the house come alive with native azaleas and the early tender green leaves of the American Beech.

Sometimes I’m barefoot in shorts. Sometimes I have a blanket wrapped around my boney hide.

Either way, when that happens, I know for certain that spring has come.

One thought on “Signs of Spring

  1. About the tree nut..
    perhaps his caring and treatment of trees helps revive him when he’s not able to to convince sinners to accept the Lord.


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