There was a day last week when the sun shone.
Daylight came softly, the air was cool, the sky pearl colored.
A pair of mourning doves sailed onto the bleached grass beyond the side porch, leaned close together as though in intimate conversation; cardinals flashed through the scrubby trees beyond the gravel drive; the sudden drumming of a woodpecker reverberated from farther up the ridge.
By mid-morning the sun rode a clear blue dome of sky.
I opened windows in the bedroom and kitchen, allowed the wood fire to dwindle to mere embers.
I made excuses to be outside, exploring, hoping for assurances of spring.
My heirloom clematis--a cutting from the one planted by Haskel Rogers in Gradyville--was lured by the warmth of late February to put out leaves and buds prematurely.
After each cold night I go out to inspect the damage. Some frost blight is evident but the buds persist.
At the edge of the woods behind the stable, spring beauties [claytonia] thrust their delicate blooms above the clutter of dried leaves.
I want to believe I've found a small clump of hepatica--one of the first woodland flowers to blossom in my native Vermont.
Back in what passes for a garden, I discovered that monarda/bee balm planted last spring has not only survived but established a promising clump of small plants.
Encouraged by this I fetched a slender pointy trowel, folded an old scatter rug for a kneeler, and attacked the weeds threatening to throttle the perennial strip.
Willis, like Alice's Cheshire Cat, has a way of soundlessly appearing whenever I settle to gardening.
I had been on my knees only a moment or two when I felt a nudge at my elbow and heard his familiar polite " Purr-rup" of greeting.
The brick walk had taken on the warmth of the sun, and Willis made himself comfortable, flopping down a yard or so beyond me.
He began a leisurely grooming session, pausing for a quick glance around at each bird call, stiffening to attention when Sally-the Troll-Cat dared to march along the retaining wall.
I stretched out a hand to massage behind his ears, prompting a rumbling purr.
I hitched my way along the walk, attempting to ignore the carpet of weeds behind me, prying out the clumps I could reach in front of me, sadly noting the sodden brown stems where salvia should be emerging, but encouraged to see that phlox and dianthus had come through the winter.
I weeded until I was along-side Willis and mildly tendered a suggestion that he move to another section of the walk so I could continue working.
In response Willis rolled onto his back, then appeared to subside at the edge of the walk.
I edged tentatively into the space beside him only to be smacked by a swift right hook.
I sputtered indignantly; Willis glared through a slitted eye, then calmly resettled himself,
blocking my way.
Grumbling, I clambered up, knees creaking, and continued my weeding on the other side of the domineering feline.
Willis, unperturbed and in control of the situation, gazed limpidly into the pasture beyond the wall.
I continued digging, prying out the tough shoestring roots of mugwort, lifting mats of chickweed, ground ivy, deadnettle-- already covered in purple flower heads.
I yanked up weeds whose names I have forgotten, all categorized as 'difficult to completely eradicate.'
My fingers were caked in damp soil, my back was protesting, and I pondered, not for the first time, that this attempt to create a garden is perhaps a losing battle.
I grubbed on, reaching the corner where the board fence joins the retaining wall.
The sun was moving behind the ridge to the west of the house, a light breeze cooled the air.
I lumbered to my feet, glanced around for Willis.
He was still reclining on his patch of the brick walk, but noting that I was on the move, he came to his feet stretching luxuriously, mouth opening in a pink yawn.
Displaying the contrariness typical of the feline tribe, Willis abandoned the brick walk.
As I put my tools away he strolled to the fence corner, maneuvered behind the prickly branches of a rugosa and reestablished himself against the sun-warmed weathered planks of the garden fence.
I climbed the steps, passed my tiny winter-ravaged herb patch, noting lavender and lemon thyme in bad need of pruning.
The urge to garden, to coax beauty from an unpromising strip of ground is strong, perhaps still strong enough inspiration to tackle invasive weeds, to counter rickety knees, to persist in nurturing plants toward the miracle of bloom.
Whatever I decide to attempt in this season's garden, I can be assured I will have a companion: the exasperating but ever-faithful Willis.