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Searching for Nature (In All the Wrong Places)


You might have noticed, as you were reading through this magazine, that there are stories about the birds and the bees (which makes some of us nervous), wildflowers, not-so-wildflowers, milkweed (which is a wildflower, not actually a weed, but don’t get me started) and other things that could be lumped generally under the heading of “nature.”

SPOILER ALERT! If you start by reading this column first (come over here and let me give you a great big hug!), I just ruined the rest of the magazine for you by giving away the plot, for which I apologize. Sometimes I just lose control.

Wait a second … this is a gardening magazine. The plot is always the same: plant the seed, water the seed, nurture the tiny plant, feed the tiny plant, water the tiny plant, transplant the plant, nurture the growing plant, feed the growing plant, water the growing plant, watch the plant bloom, watch the plant fruit, deadhead or prune the plant, watch the plant decline, watch the plant die, curse the fates, wonder what you did wrong, rinse and repeat. It’s pretty simple, really.

I hereby unapologize for spoiling the rest of the magazine for you. Unapologizing is a lot like unfriending somebody on Facebook or unplussing them from your Google+, except that there are a lot less hurt feelings.

But the theme of this issue got me to thinking about what happens in spring, at least to me, and quite possibly even to sentient beings. We begin searching for nature.

Now, possibly, this is a phenomenon that can be experienced only in climates with actual seasonal changes. Folks who live in places like Florida and California and inside of the Great Mall of America experience only warmth and light and growth and comfort. What do they know? Whereas people who live in Chicago and Buffalo and Minneapolis (those who can’t get into the Great Mall of America) experience snow (uh, Buffalo?) and cold and misery and bad football teams. Life isn’t fair.

And so, come spring, something stirs in our brains. Something that we have been only vaguely aware of for months. Namely, that there are other forms of life besides cars, TVs, ceiling fans, the occasional mail carrier, computers, refrigerators, hipsters on bicycles in the snow and dogs wearing designer sweaters being walked by hipsters through the snow.

It starts slowly. We find a brown leaf on the underside of our boot and hope that it isn’t sticking there because of the help of one of those dogs in the designer sweaters. Nevertheless, we smile as we remember that there are such things as “leaves.” Then we accidentally stumble onto a program on the National Geographic Channel about the life cycle of sea horses and sit there, amazed, for an entire fifty minutes … before getting on our computers and surfing about who got dissed at the Oscars. Later, we might be startled by the pantry moths and their larvae that have rendered our Honey Smacks inedible (unless you like the added protein for breakfast). Still, they represent something that we dimly remember, like remembering to transfer the cereal to a sealed container.

And then, something amazing happens.

Sometime around March or April or February, if you live in the right climate, or May, if you live in the wrong climate, or midnight, if you’re into music … ANYWAY, this thing happens. Shoots start to come up out of the earth. How is that even possible? And the first thing that pops into your brain is, “I don’t remember planting anything there.” But it doesn’t matter. The squirrels are probably responsible for most of your spring garden designs. All you have to do is step back, like the good doctor Frankenstein and say, “It’s alive … it’s alive!”

Then, suddenly, it’s Katy, bar the door.

The bulbs have bloomed and are spent and need deadheading and the lawn is growing much too fast and wasn’t I going to prune that rose bush around February? What happened? And what’s that fungus on my tree? And why hasn’t it rained in three weeks and why do I have to water again? And, oh, lordy, there are ants in my Honey Snacks and mosquitoes in my backyard and I don’t have time to deal with staking floppy plants or harvesting every single stalk of kale or turning the compost pile or, or, ahhhhhhh!

At this point, click your heels together and repeat after me: “There’s no place like snow, there’s no place like snow, there’s no place like snow … ”

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questions

Is it possible to plant and grow Italian cypress in the Chicago area? Are our winters too severe for it? If they are, is there an alternative conifer that will provide a similar look?

After my father’s tomatoes ripen on the vine, he finds when he cuts into them that there is a hard white core that extends through the fruit.

I have read that purple coneflowers (Echinacea) are a good source of food for birds in the winter. Will they be okay if not trimmed back until spring? If so, how early should they be trimmed?

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