Dan Conradt: There’s a growing sense of approaching spring

March 11, 2019

The snow let up momentarily, as if to say, “See? It can’t last forever!”

Of the 4-foot metal posts that anchored the corners of the fence designed to keep deer out of the garden, just the top 6 inches were visible, poking out of the snowdrifts.

I felt a glimmer of hope until a wind gust that started somewhere around Saskatoon caused even those 6 inches to disappear.

Maybe zucchini …

We were in the throes of yet another late-season snowstorm, and I hadn’t seen a car on our quiet country road for hours. Most of that time I hadn’t even seen the road. So I was especially surprised to see the mailman. The postal service apparently takes that “Neither rain, nor sleet, nor gloom of night …” thing seriously.

I was tempted to leave the mail in the box until the weather improved, recognizing that that might not happen until June. But cabin fever was setting in, and trudging out to the mailbox could be a welcome interruption. Besides, it might be the only “outside time” I’d get in the next two days that didn’t include a shovel.

I slipped into full Minnesota snowstorm gear — parka, stocking cap, boots, mittens and a thick wool muffler that was itchy but warm. I was thinking it might have been overkill for a walk to the end of the driveway until my first steps outside landed in a 2-foot drift, and the parts of my boots that weren’t filled with foot were now filled with snow.

The mailbox wasn’t visible from the house, but I’d made the walk often enough that I was willing to risk it in the storm. The wind was fresh, which is a Minnesota Nice way of saying it was doggone cold. I duckwalked to the end of the driveway and pulled down the door to the mailbox; it looked like a typical day’s delivery, and I gripped the mail as tightly as you can while wearing mittens, so the wind wouldn’t whisk it away to somewhere in Wisconsin.

I slogged back up the driveway to the house. Snow avalanched onto the entryway floor as I shrugged out of the parka.

I used my shirttail to wipe melting snowflakes off my glasses and sorted the mail: two credit card offers went into the recycling bin. A travel magazine went onto the kitchen counter to be read later; the cover showed palm frond-and-bamboo cabanas lining a white-sand beach in the Caribbean, and if the snow went on much longer I might read it sooner, rather than later. I tucked a utility bill into my checkbook; the bill and my account balance were nearly identical numbers.

And then I saw the tomatoes.

They were the energetic shade of red that is unique to tomatoes, glowing in a warm, golden sunshine. I looked out the front door; the mailbox was still hidden by the snow.

Water droplets covered the tomatoes like tiny diamonds.

“It’s garden time!” a banner headline shouted across the top of the catalog.

There was a mechanical clunk and a breathy whoosh as the furnace kicked in.

I sank into the corner of the couch that had molded itself to my body shape over the past two months and started paging through the catalog, and for the first time in a long time I felt that winter might NOT be permanent.

Green beans. Bell peppers. Cucumbers. And, yes, tomatoes.

I left the couch long enough to grab a notepad and a pen, then returned to the catalog.

Radishes. Onions. Sweet peas. Lettuce.

I sketched a long, narrow rectangle that roughly matched the dimensions of our garden, and as I leafed through the catalog I created imaginary rows on my diagram.

Spinach. Potatoes. Scallions. Cabbage.

I examined my list, then crossed off “spinach.” Caught up in the moment, I guess.

Arugula. Swiss chard. Sweet corn. Celery.

I added rows of things we had grown in the garden when I was a kid, things I knew I’d eat, and things that I’d only heard about because I’d seen them on the menu at Cracker Barrel.

My virtual garden had been planted, and I sat back to inspect the results.


I was either going to have to plant the rows 2 inches apart, or I was going to need a garden the size of Bemidji.

I crossed off “okra.”


I closed the catalog and looked at the cover. What I wouldn’t give right about now for a thick, juicy slice of tomato, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper. And maybe a dollop of mayonnaise.

I imagined the sunburny shoulder-tingle that comes after a day of weeding the garden. Sunburn sure beats frostbite!

And while it might not seem like it now, winter can’t last forever.

But I crossed off “snow peas,” just to be safe.