In the deep of winter, my husband carries the amaryllis bulbs up from the basement. They arrive upstairs looking like nothing more than pots of dirt. Just as it seems as if winter will never end, it also looks as if the bulbs will never sprout. They appear dead; that new life might emerge from the dirt seems improbable, and the string of luck we’ve had, carrying these tropical flowers from one year to the next, has finally come to an end. But I’m wrong.
Some of our bulbs are several years old, and some are babies that have sprouted from the parents Tim has nurtured for the past decade. Despite ten years of repeated success, the emergence of the first green shoot from the knobby tuber is magical, and the narrow leaf tonguing its way out of the soil inspires the kind of rejoicing due the breaking of a fever in a loved one after a long and despairing vigil during an influenza pandemic of the last century.
“It lives!” we cry. “The amaryllis is back!”
We move the flowerpot from the ledge behind the woodstove to the table in front of the sofa, so we can marvel as the green stem reaches up, its tip fattening into a pregnant bud from which the flower will eventually unfurl. Rubbery, green leaves pop up along side the flower stem. What had been a pot of dirt now looks like hope itself, promising growth, flowers and perfume.
Just as the first day of above-freezing weather gives us a hint of spring, so the swollen bud opens a crack, revealing a pink petal curled like a newborn. What is only a promise at breakfast is a full-fledged petal by dinner, and by lunch the next day, we have a flower in bloom.
Every year, we’re stunned, not just by the beauty of these flowers, but also by our own thirst to see vegetable growth in the midst of the winter landscape, with its whites and grays and long hours of dark.
Witnessing the amaryllis revive itself renews our faith in spring. Invariably, this prompts us to start plotting our vegetable garden. It reminds us to eat our vegetables; it’s now a race to empty the freezer before the beans are again upon us, and we labor over the hot stove, blanching them, in preparation for the winter to come.
The amaryllis forces our noses up from our winter reading. We notice the returning light and the long pink moments in the late afternoon. Again, we bear witness as the earth slowly tilts back to the sun.
But spring is a slow season in the north. The amaryllis will undoubtedly be followed by more snow before the maples bud or the dandelions bloom. There’s still time to read by the fire, and that’s okay: I’m not quite ready to shrug off the great rest that is winter.
For I know as surely as the amaryllis bloom will wilt, spring will come, and the breathless rush of summer will be upon us again. For what is summer, save the season of hard work during which we prepare to survive winter again?
Deborah Lee Luskin chronicles her life in southern Vermont in Living in Place, with new posts appearing on Wednesdays. A slightly different version of this essay was broadcast on the stations of Vermont Public Radio.