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Not a Good Day for Planting Root Crops

By Marcia Aldrich

The world is an old shoe filled with snow. On the early morning walk to school, I detect signs of thaw in the warmer air. A few hours later, on my way to meet my 10:20 class, I see desire for warmth doesn’t make it so. The air has turned frigid, without a hint of forgiveness, and the wind pricks my skin.

Mostly cloudy with a chance of snow.

Highs in the low 20s.

Low: 4 below.

Southwest winds.

Sun rise 6:47 am; Sun set 6:45 pm.

Moon phase: Waxing Crescent.

Waxing crescent—that’s how I feel, a thin barely perceptible sliver following a sun no one can see.

The Organic Gardening Almanac says March 15th isn’t a good day for planting root crops. Is that supposed to be funny? “Beware of the ides of March,” the Soothsayer warned.

Beware of forcing your class outside to meditate on a fountain on the fifteenth of March. Some students arrive without hats or gloves or warm boots as if they have fallen from the sky into the classroom.

We stumble across the frozen plates of ice, through the new gravel parking lot full of unwashed cars, through the wrought iron gate, under the weathered bark of the crab-apples, a stand of them hunched over as if guarding the garden’s secret. If the secret is spring, it’s well hidden. My boots crunch down on the long packed snow and the stones no sun heats until I reach the fountain, now a basin of dirty snow. We huddle in shivering groups. Is there anything so desolate as a fountain turned off in winter, a fountain whose water has been drained away? What did I come for? What was I thinking?

I didn’t want to be inside anymore. Inside a classroom, a life carved out of butter, a disease. Flight is almost always a failure. The cancer cells have traveled through my sister-in-law’s blood stream and collected in the beautiful estuaries of her pelvis and spine and skull where they have nearly completed their journey.

The fountain was not always here. As part of a beautification project, a nest of greenhouses were razed in order to create the gravel parking lot we crossed. The stand of crab apples and the border of heirloom lilacs were allowed to remain but landscapers excavated the trees where the fountain and benches and large concrete planters were constructed. A formal cultivated garden wrote over the open space.

After the old wood trees were cut down and the land cleared, stories circulated about ghostly sightings. It is said that if you sit on one of the park benches circling the fountain at midnight, you might see white dogs chasing a toddler. Some say that they see a student named Mary, who died in the late 70s, walking under the crab apples in a light pink dress. They hear her whispering the word snow.

Tragic winter deaths, there have been some. Those who have lost their way and fallen into the river of snow and drowned. How many searches have been conducted on the river in winter, how many families have waited until spring before the river could reveal its secret.

And now what it this: is it new snow falling or old snow swirling up from the ground in gusts and eddies? The Eskimos would have a word to name this condition like qanisqineq-- snow floating on water. Here, though, there is no water. There is natquik, drifting snow, and qetrar, crust on fallen snow. The wind is variable and the flurries so light that they are pushed in one direction and then another (natquik) until they plummet to the crusted ground (qetrar). But in the moment before the snow hits the ground I taste eternity.

The snow is beginning to squall; soon we won’t be able to see the fountain or each other. Today we’ll build nothing out of this snow. I was hoping to find a trace of thaw and a child’s red glove buried under mounds of snow. The bell tower chimes out its quarter hour in a blue chill. I hear a horn stuck in the distance. It’s time to turn back. The students are dispersing like skaters leaving the ice and scrambling onto the banks. No, it’s not a good day to plant root crops. Split Flow Continues Through Week’s End. Snow Coming Down From Canada.


Marcia Aldrich teaches in the Department of English at Michigan State University. She is the author of Girl Rearing, published by W.W. Norton and selected as a Barnes and Noble Discover New Authors book. She has just completed a follow up collection titled The Mother Bed.  As of January 2008, she will be the senior editor of the journal, Fourth Genre.

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photo by Dinty W. Moore