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home : columns : columns April 18, 2015

4/1/2014 1:02:00 PM
Of a certain age...
By Sue Stafford

The last few weeks have seen a definite upswing in my mood as the curtain of winter rises to reveal the hopeful promises of spring. The daffodils and crocus in my front yard have broken through the frozen ground and during each sunny day seem to lean into the warmth and light just as I do.

With each passing year, the beginning and ending of seasons give rise to more reflection and recalling of memories. Much of that recall takes me back to my childhood home. I was fortunate to grow up on an acre of land in southwest Portland that in those days was "rural suburbs." The many-acre woods behind our house contained trails, a huge blackberry patch where we picked each summer, and a stream that bore our family name and was frequently dammed by me. I passed untold hours in that magical place, building forts and playing made-up games. In the spring, the rich forest floor was home to trilliums, Johnny-jump-ups, and buttercups that, when held under your chin, would reflect yellow supposedly indicating a fondness for butter.

Our acre of land was well-tended by both my parents who passed onto me their knowledge and love of nature. My mother's territory included all the flowerbeds filled with plants of every description. The bright yellow forsythia was always the first to herald spring's approach. A slip from that bush provided a start for the one in my yard in Kirkland, which provided a slip for the bush currently in my Sisters yard. The purple violets in my front bed came from my mother's garden as well.

Early spring also brought the blooming of primroses, which still tempt me here in Central Oregon when they show up in the stores way too early to survive our fickle temperatures. There were carpets of blooms from the bulbs - yellow daffodils, tulips (deer candy here), fragrant hyacinths, and purple scilla. Pink and rose-colored camellias with their bright shiny green leaves provided luscious bouquets for the house.

In grade school every May 1, we would make May baskets by rolling colored construction paper into a cone shape and attaching a paper handle. I would bring mine home, fill it with flowers from the yard, hang it on the front-door handle, ring the doorbell, and hide behind the bushes to watch my mother's practiced delight when she opened the door. Do kids do that anymore?

The pinnacle of bloom time arrived with the opening of all the apple and pear blossoms on the fruit trees that filled our yard and provided me with multiple perches from which to watch the world go by. Their canopy of pink and white turned the yard into a snowy wonderland as the petals fell to the ground.

My father tended those trees every year for the 40-plus years my parents lived in our family home. He pruned them, sprayed and cut out the tent caterpillars that could decimate the trees, and picked the apples and pears using the long-handled canvas bag with the metal teeth that plucked the fruit into the bag. The bounty was shared with friends and family, sold in wooden fruit crates on the side of the road by my brothers and me, canned as applesauce and pear halves for winter consumption, and turned into every kind of culinary creation by my mother.

When I was a junior in high school decorating for the annual prom, my dad graciously let us cut carloads of blooming branches to be woven into fishnets covering the walls of the gymnasium to transform it into an Italian garden. My mother's mollis azalea blooms were strung into leis every year for our high school semi-formal dance, Bali Hai.

Spring meant helping my dad prepare the back third of the acre for our annual vegetable garden. My brothers learned to drive by running the tractor that tilled the soil and worked in the rotted horse manure, and my job was to pull out the grass clumps and rocks and break up the large clods of dirt.

At the north end of the garden, along the path that led to the woods, were the raspberry bushes that were pruned and tied up along wires by my dad. Come summer, we would go out in the morning and pick fresh raspberries to put on our cereal, filling their little wells with cream.

At the east end of the raspberry patch was our pet cemetery, which held the remains of various well-loved dogs and cats, each with their own marker. My pet raccoon, Robert Q. Coon, wasn't there, as we returned him to the wild after he ate our neighbor's turtles, pulled their laundry off the clothesline, and punctured their new plastic wading pool with his sharp teeth as he played in the water during his many nocturnal forays.

Looking back, it is easy to see the impact and influence of my childhood springs on me. It seems that west of the mountains they have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to springtime. That lush fecundity of the valley spring used to be my normal. Now I savor each green bud and tentative bloom that peeps out into our unpredictable weather. Last weekend I cleaned all the pine needles out of my flowerbeds, exposing the tender little shoots of the day lilies, iris and bleeding heart only to see the nighttime temperatures plunge to the teens. And if the freezing temperatures don't do them in, there's always the itinerant deer, hungry following a long winter.

Spring in Sisters may not be as abundant, but it is perhaps more appreciated. As I watch the sun progress a little further onto my deck each day, I recall fondly my childhood memories of spring and wait with great anticipation for those warm days of summer. Until then, if I need a hit of valley verdancy, I can always drive over the pass to the farms around Silverton where there are fields of blooming bulbs and the magnificent Oregon Garden.

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