Our winter was very mild this year. There were only a few days of freezing temperatures. January is usually the very definition of winter. The piney woods and hardwood bottoms are bare. There are no blooms or flowers. No insects are about. Our calendars proclaim January as the start of the new year, but out there in nature, in this part of the world, the new year actually begins in February.
In February, the woods behind my house are festooned with garlands of yellow Jessamine. It is our state flower, and is one of the first wild flowers to bloom in the new year. The carpet of brown leaves on the forest floor is sprinkled with the beautiful yellow petals that have fallen from the vines. It is still unseasonably warm, and the season is advanced.
The hardwoods are open now and cloaked in shades of grey. I can see my neighbor's house through the screen of branches. There are no leaves yet, but the maples stand out with a sprinkle of red flowers. Soon the leaves will come and hide his abode -- again.
In town, the tulip trees have bloomed with pink and lavender colored flowers. The Bradford pear trees are covered in white flowers and are already getting small green leaves. Azaleas are blooming.
The calendar thinks that it is still winter, and we will certainly have some more cold weather, but the season is changing. Spring is coming early this year.
Out in the countryside, the wild plum thickets are blooming. Tiny white flowers cover the purple branches. Songbirds are singing from the forest and fields.
It is now early March and a heavy snow is falling, big flakes drifting to the earth, but the surface temperature is too warm to allow for any accumulation here at my house off McCray's Mill Road.
In the swampy lands, willow trees are sprouting small green leaves that shimmer in the warm sunshine. Redbud trees are blooming out in the wildwoods, and in town. The flowers are not red, but more purplish and hot pink. These understory trees are not particularly common, but are delightfully beautiful. Dogwoods are also blooming now. They are very common in town and throughout the countryside. It always surprises me how many are out there, in our woodlands. Wisteria vines are covered now in bunches of bluish purple flowers. They are common in town and in the countryside.
Oak trees are putting out tiny little lime green leaf buds. Other hardwoods are adding a screen of greenish brown buds. Maples are getting redder. The spring hardwoods are looking like a pastel version of fall color. Spring is my favorite season.
A cold snap has set everything back with a hard freeze in mid-March. The flowers are wilted, most of the azalea blooms in town have turned brown, and the wisteria blooms have wilted and blended back into the grey woods. Only the dogwoods are still blooming now. They didn't seem to be affected too much by the cold snap. Warm weather will return. It cannot be denied.
We've had some pollen, but a few timely showers washed most of it away. I think there will be more to come.
April will bring more flowers and the hardwoods will cloak themselves in shades of emerald green. The understory trees have already turned the woodlands into a dappled green wonder. Summer will be here much too soon.
Dan Geddings is a weekly columnist for The Sumter Item. Email Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org.