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March 16, 1995

A double row of radishes seeded in earlier than ever before, thanks to the exceptional warm-up this week. Cherry Belle, French Breakfast, German Giant, Hailstone White. Planted in the sandy sun trap of a plot along the south side of my neighbor Jim's garage. Jim wasn't home, so I prepared the bed myself. And in less than an hour, the seeds were in and topped with one of my spunbond polyester row covers--long strips of gauze-like material, stretched over metal hoops, that give the vegetables four to six degrees of additional warmth. I've never planted anything outside this early, so I'm curious to see what will come of them. Then I put in the onion sets--a twenty foot row of diminuitive onion bulbs, centered along the front edge of my own large vegetable bed. Though the soil was still a bit cool just below the surface, I was sweating from the suddenly elevated temperatures in the mid-seventies. Almost a hundred degrees higher than the wind-chill factor a week ago, when the garden was still covered with snowier one week, spring the next. The top of the topsoil already dry enough along the front stretch of the bed that I could easily draw my hoe through it to loosen things up a bit before I leveled the row, set up my string line, and pressed the little bulbs in about two inches apart. They went in so easily the earth seemed as if it was meant for them. And now in a month or so we can begin harvesting every other one for scallions, leaving the others to swell into fully mature onions. Meanwhile, I can look down from my attic study, where I'm writing this report, and see the string line marking the row. And perhaps see their green tips breaking through the soil in a week or so. An extraordinary prospect, thanks to El Niño--that periodic warmup of the ocean off the coast of Peru that seems to be responsible for weather disruptions around the world. It's a long way from Peru to Iowa, but like many things in this world, they're connected by the wind.

If I didn't have a department meeting in an hour, I'd still be outside, transplanting the lettuce seedlings I started in mid-February. But the time's so short I couldn't get them all planted comfortably and pleasurably. Twenty-five years ago, I'd still be in the garden, frantically working to get everything in as fast as I could, even if I showed up at the meeting sweating and out of breath. Even if my back ached and my knees were stiff for the next three days. Bodily decrepitude is wisdom, alright. Also the fact that one day sooner or later makes little difference, especially when the gardening season is two or three weeks ahead of schedule, as it is right now.

But then I'm caught short by Phoebe curled up in the window seat behind my computer--her coon-ringed tail wrapped around her reddish-brown body, her faintly speckled head nestled in between her tail and legs. Napping as peaceably as she has for almost twenty years. Just a year ago, she seemed so robust, I thought she'd keep going four or five more years. Now, she's come up with a cancerous tumor, and I wonder how many weeks or months she has to live. Anymore, I don't know how to reckon the passing of time, except to note that it's passing, and a month or so from now when the green onions and radishes are ready Phoebe may already be gone. Some harvest. In this year of El Niño, nothing's quite in sync or in season. Not even the seasons.

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