Three times in the night I woke to the sound of driving rain: hard and loud on the rooftop. Now with the first light of morning I see the dark gray clouds of the cold front streak across the sky moving southeast. Some of the apple-blossoms on the tree outside my window did not survive the night, but most held on, somehow. I was worried. January has been glorious in Santa Cruz, teasing us with warm days, glorious sunlight and little rain; gone were the drenching storms that defined California’s December.
The fruit trees have responded to the spring-like days, colors of white and pink delicately dancing in the breeze; there is always that fear that blossoms will open too early and a hard rain will end their story before it begins. Difficult to imagine a spring without ripening fruit and the canning that gives us apricot, peach and plum preserves – the taste of summer in winter. We are approaching Imbolc, the cross-quarter days when the sun in its celestial travels is midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox; in the Northern Hemisphere the sun in its journey has reached the precise point of fifteen degrees in the constellation of Aquarius. Occurring between February 2 – 7 on our Gregorian calendar, it is the middle of astronomical winter, and the beginning of spring. It is a celebration of the lengthening days and the early signs of spring; known as the Festival of St. Brigid in Ireland, we know it as Groundhog Day, the day the groundhog emerges from its burrow to signify that winter will soon end. But thankfully winter seeks to stay awhile yet, and truthfully we are not ready to say goodbye to the rain and snow either. If we are lucky our fruit trees will sleep a little longer before awakening to their life purpose. Pacific storms – bringing rain to the coast and Central Valley and the resulting snowpack and snowmelt in the Sierra-Nevada mountains – bring life to all of the inhabitants of California: you, me, fruit trees and Salmon.
In the late 17th century, the Japanese poet Matsuo Basho – the great haiku master – wrote “each day is a journey, and the journey itself home.” During his life Basho made many pilgrimages throughout Japan with only a knapsack and writing implements, determined to become a hyohaksua “one who moves without direction.” On his last pilgrimage in 1689, Basho travelled through the villages and mountains north of Edo (today’s Tokyo) and along the shores of the Sea of Japan. During his journey he wrote his masterpiece the Narrow Road to the Interior which features verse and haiku including this one describing the first signs of spring:
Kesa no yuki
nebuka o sono no
After morning snow
onion shoots rise in the garden
like little signposts