My little maple tree in the front yard is confused. It has been a pretty warm, dry winter here in Northern California, and in November we had a week or two of weather in the seventies. A few weeks later my little maple tree began pushing out shoots and tiny green leaves. Those baby leaves opened around the same time the rest of the tree was in it's full autumnal glory, all ablaze in Christmas red. My little tree was all decked out for the holidays in it's little red-green combo. By the time the baby leaves were teenager leaves, the rest of the tree was quite a nursing-home baldy.
Then the cold came blasting in, and my little tree has rushed those sweet leaves right through adulthood and on to leaf geriatrics. The tree spent a week as a clump of sticks with a red beanie of little fall leaves on top. Now they are dropping into the pond below, confused little boats on chilly black water.
I've noticed a few of my other garden plants that seem botanically befuddled. My impatiens are usually limp and soggy by now, and my begonia's strength should have retreated deep into the soil, the shroud of fall's last bloom turning black on the surface. Instead they are a mix of dull greens and faded blooms, uncertain and insincere. My bulbs have sprung, and a few brazen daffodils have burst out defiantly, as if daring a frost to even think about showing up. In my neighborhood, springtime blossoms on fruit trees have shown up to the party far too early.
I once read that the earth needs to rest; that just as we need to sleep, or should, each time this blue planet does a singular turn, that the trees and most plants need to rest too. The soil itself, covered in dead-fall, takes on nutrients and gives away nothing for a few short months before Spring, a demanding toddler, begins to take and take and take, again.
That is what winter is for. Solitude. Restoration. Quiet.
I'm a little worried for my tree, that maybe the work it has had to do when it should have been resting will compromise its health and strength in the coming year, making it susceptible to to disease. Then I go on to worry about all the trees; the ones the that grow the fruit that my family and community have taken for granted we will enjoy in this summer. What if they bloom too soon? What if winter comes back from it's strange vacation, trying to get all caught up on missed work, and with frigid fingers throws out a blanket that covers them and kills their blossoms?
My mother would say I'm borrowing trouble. I probably am. What If-ing has never been a prosperous pastime. Still, it feels like someone has taken a great, tentative breath, and we're all waiting.