The end of the winter that wasn’t
BY ED CULLEN
Advocate staff writer
Tuesday is the first day of spring. We may relax our vigil against pipe-bursting cold.
The other afternoon, after not putting away the sweaters that didn’t get worn, I paused to reflect on snowy lawns that happened elsewhere, mornings of not seeing children huddled at bus stops or letter carriers weighed down by catalogs for winter hats, coats, hooded jackets and mittens.
One morning, I saw a cyclist circling University Lake like a low-flying hawk. The bicycle rider was wearing leggings against a chill that wasn’t in the air. He’d bought the leggings, probably from a catalog. He was going to wear them.
One non-winter afternoon, the postman wore shorts. The sight of bare white legs jutting from post office blue socks made the people on our street stop kidding themselves.
It wasn’t winter. It wasn’t likely to be winter. We felt silly calling it winter, but it wasn’t time to call the unchanging weather summer, yet.
Imagine the confusion of Baton Rouge school children assigned essays on the coming of spring. Southern children aren’t fooled by calendars printed in Wisconsin. Our children know their seasons, the season when there is school and the season when there isn’t school.
I came close to making fires in the courtyard chimenea a couple of times, but couldn’t bring myself to touch match to kindling.
On what passed for a cold day, I split firewood until blinded by perspiration pouring from my hair. I do enjoy splitting firewood in T-shirt and shorts.
I enjoyed the smell of wood smoke from the houses of neighbors determined to have winter. There is something so southern about chimney smoke curling above roaring air conditioners.
How I pine for the hours wasted waiting for the winter nights promised by television weather persons.
In the winter that never came, neighbors who cover plants with bed sheets congratulated themselves on saving tender trees and ancient camellias from devastating cold that wasn’t.
A man I know who makes his living advising gardeners and homeowners says we should cover our plants with bed sheets if we “like the look” because sheets won’t save plants on nights of killing cold.
This winter, our plant-saving sheets were warm to the touch after nights of staving off frost.
Oh, there were predictions of really cold nights, but they must have been predictions made by computers, not people sticking their heads out of windows.
After a few false alerts of freeze, I stopped bringing plants inside. The impatiens in the courtyard thumbed their petals at the predictions.
The impatiens survived the winter that didn’t happen, bloomed through November, December, January, February and, now, await spring with new flowers at the ends of new stems.
This afternoon, if the mosquitoes aren’t too bad, I’m going to build a fire in the patio chimenea. It will be too warm to sit anywhere near the little fireplace. I will sit inside the house near a window to watch the fire and toast the winter that meant to come but never got around to it.