This year, this time of year is particularly bittersweet for me. I have grown used to not talking to Dad every Saturday morning since he died last fall, but I haven't and likely never will grow used to not sharing the wonders of our world with him.
My Dad's favorite day was the day of Winter equinox, because it meant the days would grow longer and the sun would burn brighter. His mood lifted on December 21 and joy, as it was interpreted by him, would begin to creep back in and melt the ice around his heart (truth is he got pretty grumpy on cold, dreary, cloudy winter days) the way the sun begins to do on permafrost and regular above ground frost.
I have always LOVED spring the most of all of the seasons. It is something I learned from Dad. He loved Spring so much. He loved to talk about the emerging garden, the animals awakening, the new babies in his barnyard, the poems and stories written in tribute to spring. He would sometimes just launch into a poem he had long before had committed to memory. No matter what he was, he was always the English teacher with a PhD and depth of understanding about language which he loved as much as his simple iris.
My flower gardens are sprinkled with Dad's Iris. That man could grow iris like no one I have ever seen. His house was on a busy corner in my hometown and was surrounded by gardens and in those gardens literally thousands of iris blooming at once at the onset of Spring, scenting the air and bringing a cornucopia of color to the world that passed by.
Often when Dad was weeding or tending someone would just stop to compliment his artistry. He would lean on his spade, share a class or ice water and on a few occasions a shared ice cold beer and soak in the praise, then promising the admirers that on a weekend coming soon, they could come and get some of the iris for their own yards. Cars pulled over daily when the iris were in bloom to take lover's photographs amongst the tall beauty he cultivated and more than once photographers came with tripods and cameras to tour his gardens.
Once a high school senior had her photos taken in his lovely front border garden (he was so proud of that). He would tell me in detail, usually several times the specific quotes he heard about how his handiwork brightened what according to the woman would have been an otherwise fairly bleak day (for her, he cut some of the beauty to take with her, my Dad was often a very thoughtful man).
When the iris flowers were spent and needed to be separated he would set the rhizomes out along the sidewalk with labels of what color the lucky recipient would be receiving. Within hours every iris start was gone. Often people would ask my Dad if they could pay him but he always refused, just reveling in the idea that he had spread something beautiful that day. My favorite thank you story, one he told me during one of our Saturday morning talks, was about an anonymous someone who had come and gotten some of dad's iris and in the place in the garden that held a rare empty spot had left a six pack of premium, expensive signature brewed beer and a note thanking him.
Dad shared his art this way every Spring season and I know this Spring people are saddened that Dad's once rich and beautiful border garden is no longer. Some people when they buy a house, don't understand the treasure that is just under the soil and cover it over with rocks to park on (though this crafty son saw it coming and when the house was selling went up and helped myself to a pick-up truck load of Dad's rhizomes which are now in various gardens in my neck of the woods). But it sure makes it easier to drive by his old house not to see the gardens that only Dad could tend the way he did.
The beauty is that now Dad's iris are in border gardens all over my old, beloved hometown and beyond. My personal gardens are beautified by them and they are just now beginning to bloom. Perhaps someday in the not too distant future I will set some rhizomes out on my curb with a note to denote the color and Dad's legacy will spread just that much further.
Now Dad is gone. The flowering spring trees and my tiny plants pushing there way up through the sleepy winter-kissed soil in my vegetable garden are reminders of dad's passion for soil. He gave me the gift of loving the earth and toiling in it through the seasons. I miss my Dad!