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Commentary & Opinion

I'm missing Spring

California’s majestic redwood trees – I know that’s a cliché but you come up with something more indicative -- were the inspiration behind the month-long trip we’re taking to the West Coast. Not to put too morbid a point on it but I want to see them while I still can. I’m not expecting anything horrible to happen to me. It’s the trees I’m worried about.

That may sound like an overreaction. The average age of mature redwoods is between eight and fifteen hundred years old. Chances are they’ll be around long after I’m gone. But they haven’t been doing too well lately. Redwoods and giant sequoias – by the time I return I hope to know the difference -- are adapted to forest fires. But let’s not get cocky. With climate change and year-round conflagration seasons being the new normal even fire-resilient trees may have met their match.

When I heard last September that firefighters were wrapping aluminum foil around the base of the General Sherman, the world’s largest tree, to repel an approaching fire that was all the incentive I needed to pay my respects to these loveable monsters while I still could.

The problem is that in doing so I’m short-changing my own trees. We’ll be gone just as spring in the Hudson Valley erupts and I hate to miss it. But it feels like we’re threading a needle. If I wait to leave until everything around here finishes blooming in June forest fire season will have already started in California. It runs until late fall. Also, you can’t really plant things locally, like tomatoes, much before Memorial Day. At least I’ll be back by then.

I don’t know how our trip got to be so long. The redwoods were my incentive. Visiting our daughter in Canada was my wife’s. Also, there’s all that pent up pandemic wanderlust. We haven’t traveled much further than the end of our driveway in almost three years, though it’s a decent sized driveway. So we’re renting a car in Los Angeles and driving up the Pacific Coast Highway to Big Sur; then over to the Napa Valley for a few days; the Redwoods for a few more; Bend, Oregon to visit friends, and Seattle where we’ll board the ferry to British Columbia.

It sounded good to me. Except that as the day of departure approached and I hurried to complete outdoor spring cleaning chores I started to take inventory of everything I’ll miss here over the course of those four weeks. The fragrance of lilacs blooming. The budding maple trees around the house, followed by the oaks a week or two later. And what’s to become of my tiger lilies? I sprayed the early shoots with deer repellant. But a month is a long time to go between spritzes, no matter what it says on the label.

Were I going to be around I’d also take the deer fencing off our apple and chestnut seedlings to let them breath. But I’m afraid that if I do so before I leave our whitetails will have reduced them to stubble by the time I return.

Unless you’re a masochist you can’t really swim in a Hudson Valley pool much before the last week in May, and only then if you’re willing to incur the exorbitant cost of heating it; at least our Stone Age pool. Ponds are a slightly different matter. Sixty-five degrees is the bare minimum temperature I can suffer without risking shock, but there’s a certain pride one takes in the season’s first swim under those polar conditions, especially if you can coordinate your plunge with an eighty-degree day.

The turtles are already sunning themselves on the tree stump at the bottom of the pond. But I’ve only spied one of our three carp so far. I hope the remaining two didn’t succumb over the winter. I won’t know until I return.

And then there’s bird migration. I hate not being here to greet our returning warblers. If they stick to their average timetable migrants such as orioles will be spotted, hopefully by someone, foraging the blossoms on our Callery pear trees on or about May 8th. Hummingbirds return a few days later. And speaking of foraging, I’m going to miss roaming the woods harvesting ramps and probably morels and fiddlehead ferns too.

I have no doubt that spring is miraculous anywhere on the planet. I just think it’s a little more miraculous here. Some places, such as Los Angeles, don’t have as clearly defined seasons, or hardly anything that passes as a recognizable season. Fortunately, by the time this commentary airs I’ll be in Santa Barbara or points north; in case the friends whose kindness we’re presuming upon in LA take this as a criticism of their life choices.

The good news is I already can’t wait to get back. By the time I do, spring will still be unwrapping itself. The pond will be swimmable. The hummingbirds will be strafing me to remind me to fill their feeders. And I’ll have succeeded in communing with the redwoods. The way things are going they might well find the climate more hospitable here.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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