Monday, October 3, 2011

Remembering a Chipmunk's Winter Preparations

Over the weekend, when I was deep in the dirt with a bulging box of bulbs waiting to be planted, I thought of a story I had read as a child of a small chipmunk who was taught to be prepared and self-sufficient for the coming winter. Alongside his mother and father he was taught and encouraged to gather and store all the nuts his family would need for the long season ahead. He completed his work with a finely tuned and peaceful focus on the task at hand. Looking back I remember feeling reassured in the world the chipmunk and his family had ordered.

Although the task of getting the bulbs in the ground in a timely fashion before the snow falls in our part of country is usually a hectic rush to beat the next season, this year the bulb company sent my order earlier than ever before. This was due in part to my request that it be sent, not according to their planting zones, but to the reality that winter comes to northwestern Colorado as early as the third week of October. I have often planted the last bulb the afternoon before winter settled in.

So, with the chipmunk on my mind, a relaxed planting schedule, my notes indexed for each garden and each bag of bulbs, I entered the gardens. However, as careful as I had been taking notes earlier in the summer, not all my notes matched up with what I found in my Breck’s box. I asked myself more than once, “What are these Triumphant Tulips for?” and “Where are the Tip Toe Tulips I ordered? I want Tip Toe not Triumphant.” Then I read in my notes, “mixed tulips, two feet by two feet around St. Francis and at the back of the old tulips.” “What?” I said to myself in a loud whisper, “What does that mean?”

Despite my best intentions, I felt I was missing, in part, the mark of my memory of the small chipmunk and his family's orderly preparations. Even though by dinnertime I had managed to get several hundred bulbs put to bed, a number of bulbs remained a mystery. I really had no idea where they belonged so I planted them in a random fashion. Perhaps when they emerge next spring they will be colorful surprises worth watching. Who knows, they may very well provide a new creative look in the gardens I had never imagined.

Unlike the nut gathering of the small chipmunk, my bulb planting wasn’t going to help me survive the coming winter. But participating in the annual ritual of planting bulbs in the moist earth with the promise of their bloom come spring provided the same kind of peace I remember from reading the small chipmunk's story. As I dug down three, six, and sometimes eight inches and placed the Sunny Girl Daffodils, Angelique Tulips, and Grape Hyacinths I’m acted on a faith in the surety of the seasons. Planting these small tubers provided a feeling of assurance: that after a long winter’s night they will emerge, just as the natural world intended.

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