So what are we to make of this section of the calendar where soon the day and the night will be equal in length as the natural world slides from winter into spring? As both an artist and a gardener, March has always affected me as though the word was a verb and not a title.
Marching orders telling me to get busy, that time is a-wastin’, and if you’re not careful, you’ll get behind – a condition that is likely to last all year. I suspect at that point I begin to hear centuries of Ozarks grandmothers like mine, bustling around the kitchen, weilding her dish towel like a whip, while snapping orders to draw water, split some kindling for the cookstove, fetch a jar of peaches or apples from the cellar, all the while measuring by fistful or the palm of her hand ingredients for pancakes or biscuits.
To those of us too young to remember those times or who have become accustomed to modern conveniences and a more leisurely pace, it sounds quite onorous. But it wasn’t. Not in the least.
For in those times we were more attuned to the wheel and accepted our part in its turning. After breakfast there would be seeds to sort, weeds to be routed, early peas to be planted, and seed potatoes to be cut and spread out in a sunny room. Outdoors the search would be on for very early spring greens to put extra nutrition in the diet, which my Uncle Gus would tell you is vitally important after a “cornbread winter.” Of course if you live in the country, those practices are common worldwide, not just in the Ozarks, in places where spring comes noticeably earlier or later.
I’ve recently returned from a trip south, where some weeks ago a friend was already potting up large and lush tomato and pepper plants to take to another gardener, for she had too many and they were too big.
And one of my fondest memories of a set of seasons spent long ago in the far north, in Vermont, along the Connecticut River is of a visit to a family whose son had offered to repair my car. The family was large and quite unique, with eight to a dozen kids, and all of them very busy.
I arrived on a frosty April morning to find a cow housed in a small, derelict building out back, a calf penned in the garage, a quartet of boys in the back yard claiming to be excavating a swimming pool with spades and shovels, a sunroom full of seed flats, another jumble of young women assembling small kits of cosmetic samples in a little home business, and a large portion of goat stewing on the stove.
While I was standing bemused at this level of industry, the mother stuffed my mouth with a chunk of goat meat and guided me by the elbow out to see her garden spot. On the way there, while passing a heavy board fence, something dealt the fence a solid blow while emitting a horrendous squeal. It was a huge hog of indeterminate parentage. I jumped about a foot, but the mother simply pressed on, calling out in a strident voice, “Don’t you threaten me, you expletive expletive, tomorrow I’m gonna cut your throat and hang you in a tree.
Well, I’m sure such things happen all over, but the main memory I took from that visit was that without a doubt, those children and that mother were totally aligned with the marvelous wheel of life, and would wrest from it all the sustenance necessary by whatever means were at hand.
I was very impressed with their quest for a rich life. But I did worry a little about the calf. I’m from a gentler land than that, a land where my parents every year raised a calf to put beef in the freezer. But at harvest time every year, they would send that calf to market, and buy one they didn’t know for the freezer. This is Markdeth Sisco, with a long-winded observation on the seasons in These Ozarks Hills as well as the country we call “Off.”