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January 2, 1995

A week ago the weather was so balmy that the pussy willows at the back of the yard were beginning to open, and I was thinking about planting a few radish seeds in the back vegetable bed, where I'd just finished harvesting the last of the turnips. But today it probably won't get above twenty, tonight it's supposed to hit ten or fifteen below zero, and a bitter cold spell is predicted to hang on for the next several days.

So now I'm wondering how I could ever have been beguiled into thinking I could bring on another crop of radishes under the row covers. You'd think that thirty-two years of living in Iowa would have convinced me that winter in the upper Midwest inevitably delivers at least one arctic cold spell, usually more, usually in January, and the sun never gets high enough in the sky to deliver the necessary light and heat for a crop of radishes or anything else. But even Kate, who was born and raised just twenty miles north of here, who knows the seasonal truths far better than I-even Kate thought it might be worth trying a few radish seeds. What is it, I wonder, that leads us to suppose a pleasant quirk in the weather might turn into a long run of balmy days? The power of suggestion? The dread of winter and of wintry reflections? The yearning for spring? The hunger for spring radishes? Or just the force of the moment itself and all its pleasing sensations-the gentleness of the air, the warmth of the sun, the feel of the soil, the delicate taste of the row-covered spinach that made it through the early December cold snap?

Whatever the case, I'm now wondering if the spinach will survive this harsh cold spell. But then again, if the row-covered parsley made it through last year's bitter January, why not the spinach? And the late-planted shallot bulbs? And the row-covered thyme on the south end of the gazebo? And the pair of artichoke plants too? After all, nothing is certain here except death, taxes, and a January cold snap.

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