Kage Baker always felt February was a sneaky month. It promises Spring over and over, and then reneges and leaves us in Winter again. Days get soft and silky and warm; and just when you find your huaraches and shorts, the wind resumes blowing from the North and you freeze important bits off while you try to start the annual garden ….
You can count on freezes in January. You can count on floods in March. February has no backbone nor consistency, nor honesty either. It eyes sparkle beguilingly, and you end up wearing the wrong clothes when you can’t tell if that sparkle is new leaves or ice.
It’s 71 degrees here in LA, at not quite half-past 10 AM, and destined to brush the ’80’s today. The mulberry tree is still utterly leafless, but the camellia is blooming like it’s May Day; the grass is practically growing visibly, except where the frost-kill has left patterns like cut velvet in its nap. Hawks are courting in the vault of the sky, and last night I heard the first mockingbird. But the snails and frogs and crickets won’t be awake for weeks, yet.
Kage would start to get itchy feet in February, longing to get out and garden. I think one of the reasons she took up bulbs so enthusiastically in her later years was just so she’d have something to do while Winter drained away. She’d haul the tulips out of the veggie crisper (it wasn’t safe to eat anything in our crispers …) and go over them like a hoard of gems. She spent a lot of time trying to figure out by the appearance of tulip bulbs what sort they were: because some of her careful labels always somehow fell off in the refrigerator.
“What are they doing in there, dancing?” she’d growl, turning some sleeping bulb over and over to look for clues. “Here, is this an Insulinde or an Estella Rijnveld?”
“I dunno. They all look like papier mache turnips to me.”
Kage would give me A Mendoza Look, and stare intently at the suspect tulip. Then she’d decide it was actually a Mabel … and 9 times out of 10, she’d be right. How did she do it? I have no idea. She had magic gardening hands.
Now all those bulbs she loved and planted, the rare tulips and hyacinths, live in a Northern town. I sent the pots up there when I packed up the house, and they still live in some dear friends’ yard. And now they’ll bloom for Master Alexander Kage Paladini, who is pushing 5 months old and will be walking this summer, and will like the bright colours his namesake planted years before his birth …
Winter and spring, all mixed up together. Maybe that’s what February is for, to remind me of the way the seasons not only roll along repeating but blend into and out of one another along the way. Kage would have liked that.
And now a flock of parrots just flew overhead. Feral Amazons, noisy happy little thugs that have just swept into the neighborhood from who knows where … the ravens are horrified, trying to hide in the camphor trees while the parrots sweep through the branches like giggling weed whackers … the sparse new leaves go flying, shredded by wings and beaks and talons, and the occasional collisions of rollicking parrots and startled ravens.
Winter and spring and their feathered avatars, fighting it out in the sky. Man, symbolism just falls like rain around here today, even if it is clear and warm. And Kage taught me how to see it all.