urging on the equinox

“hey, lady, what’s with the sticks? what’s with the sticks sticking straight up from the glass?”

i can hear you saying that. hear you thinking, oh my she’s gone mad, here in the unrelenting arctic of winter.

mais, non.

it’s just the latest of my little home experiments to grope for the rope, to pull through this dark tunnel of white, white and more white. and cold. did i mention the cold, barreling once again at us from up where the polar bears roam?

those sticks, friends, are not just any sticks. they are the sticks of the forsythia, a flowering shrub, a cloud of pure lemony yellow, whose very name, it seems, begs us to force, to force spring to bloom.

force me, the forsythia beckons.

and my mama–the true keeper of these sorts of knowledge–she reminded me, tapped me on the shoulder, said, “don’t forget the forsythia.”

february, apparently, is prime time for forsythia. for the forcing of sticks in general. forcing them into bloom, that is. rather than forcing though, i like to think that i’m coaxing, i’m urging, i’m begging a break in the please-bloom-for-me department.

so, intent on seducing some spring from my sticks, i trudged out through the deep drifts of the snows, felco no. 2 pruners in hand. looking like some kind of a nut case–once again–i dodged and i darted, all around the forsythia bush. i clipped a long one here, a not-so-long one over there, going always for the sticks with the big balls of nubs. those would be blooms in the making.

once i made for the house, and dunked them in water, of course.

now, being the daughter of a woman who merely cuts and plunks in warm water, no muss and no fuss, i, decidedly different, decided i needed to research this task.

i consulted a few books, did a little digging online. and these are the 10 commandments i came up with:

1.) do not cut before february 1, the l’il sticks need to slumber on ol’ mama bush. if they haven’t had sufficient sleep, out in the cold, they won’t even think of opening their lids.

2.) when you’re out at the bush, cutting like a madperson, try if you can to cut on an angle. apparently this gives the stick more of a throat for guzzling water–once you and your sticks are inside.

3.) speaking of madpersons, one tome tells to use a hammer (once sticks are cut, obviously), to smash the poor ends of the stick, the last inch or two only, as if this too will give the poor stick more capacity for taking in fluids. eesh.

4.) okay, once in from the snows, try very hard to imagine it’s spring, and then, you creative devil, you, try to recreate it, there in the cold and the drafts of your sweet little house.

5.) for best blooming, do not plunk your sticks straight in the vase, the books tell me, but rather submerge them in a tub of cool water. for 24 hours. (be careful to step around them when you step into the shower, should that be the tub of submersion.) if you haven’t a bath for your sticks, misting, they tell us, will do. mist like a rainforest though. mist with reckless abandon.

6.) once soaked, but not soggy, your sweet little sticks are ready to stand and perform.

7.) find a spot, sunny and warm, but not straight in the glare or the heat of the sun. (the sun, remember, that big yellow star allegedly on the payroll for purposes of keeping us warm? ha.)

8.) change the water every few days. our little sticks do not like drinking water turned mucky.

9.) one final tip: if any blooms start to bloom under water, dispense with those blooms. they are so much fodder for bacteria, the books tell me, and they’ll do in the whole bunch much sooner.

10.) stand back and admire. in less than two weeks, more likely just one, you’ll have a whole shock of spring blooming there on your ledge.

now, here’s the part where i come clean: i broke at least two and a half of those commandments, two venial sins and one half of a mortal one. i did not cut on an angle, i did not hammer the heck out of my sticks, and i did not soak in the tub, not with my sticks i did not. being at least a little bit of my mother’s daughter, i pretty much ran in the house, misted, and dunked. and the misting i only did after the fact, after i culled the whole list of commandments.

but you know what? it’s only been a few short days since i was out nipping away with my pruners. and, truth be told once again, i was a serious doubter. oh, yes, i was willing to play along with this forcing of spring, but i really couldn’t imagine that i had on my hands much besides a nice bunch of sticks in a vase. i was the skeptical queen of the sticks.

well, you can already guess where i’m going here: those sweet little sticks, at three days and counting, are already performing. where once there was brown and more brown, no life in sight, suddenly there is green. the softest, tenderest most vernal green. all up and down. all over those sticks.

the sticks, they are telling me: do not give up. do not lose hope. spring it is coming; it’s clinging and waiting on a stick that’s well within your grasp.

the show is unfolding. i have a sense it’s one i don’t want to miss. and i hope, neither do you.

p.s. not only forsythia are willing to bring on the equinox early; february is the month to beg a few branches of the crab apple, cherry, almond or plum, japanese quince, pussy willow, rhododendron, azalea, and the serviceberry. don’t give up hope. plenty bloom in a mere week or two. cherry, almond and plum should bloom in two to four weeks; japanese quince could take four; rhododendron and azalea might take four to six weeks. but that still beats march 21, the day the world turns to spring.