Calloo callay, ruinous day, again it is on me as it is each winter this time of January, as surely as hard frost and wild wind, this empty thing, the season’s suspension, my mind an endless slum, the spirit stuck, emotional heartstrings as vibrant as lard. I am as empty of endeavor as any gardener in August. Last though they may only a few weeks, the pits of January yawn as fell as the stony face of tragedy. Take heart, said Euripides, for great sorrow, when it reaches its height, lasts but a little time. Enough to undo the lion, said Aristotle, through simple boredom. January is such an unending chore. It is hard to penetrate its dense silence or bear its endless mutton-fat skies inches above one’s head or support soundlessness and the absence of odor. The only racing for Barnsley is the twitching of whiskers and legs as he runs in dream after dream.
I am not the type of trowel to chortle over the ever-precocious snowdrop or the charms of winter bloom of Carolina jasmine, viburnum odorata, or sorts of witch hazel, or the this or that so advanced in bud that it may be forced to open its gelid flowers for a day or two of admiration before drying in the overheat of it all. Paperwhites have been and gone (a bit of vinegar in their water will keep foliage and blossoms erect). I will shortly clip stems of black pussy willow to open in a vase or two. And am ordering seeds, will shortly scrub the greenhouse in their honor, and Barnsley, who loathes the outdoors when it is cold, will therefore be groomed for spring this week. The minute, inching increase in the teaspoons of daily strengthening light is already budding houseplants so that, next watering, all pots will get their first dose of growth stimulant in the form of fish emulsion. Yet I, the gardener, really have nothing to do except plot the forthcoming gardening year in ways far too extravagant to be realistic. I am a petty despot about it all, a green neo-fascist in my excessive demands.
I do want black roses that bark at diseases and inanition. I want podless peas and onions, shallots and garlic with zippers, ever-blooming rhododendrons, Southern magnolias fastidious enough to pick up spent blossoms and shedded leaves, winter-hardy alocasias, from the blue hose Claudia Thomas sent for Christmas turquoise water glittering by the light of the sun and the moon. There! My dose of black dog begins to dilute, bad cess begins to drain.
I wish I knew the purpose of the January downs since the malady strikes me like January thaw or winter itself. Everything in life has a tariff. Perhaps my megrims are largely fee for the pleasures of gardening. Or a tax on the spirit for not hibernating, especially hard now that I am without cigarettes or a shot or two.