by Mimi Hedl

Yesterday the world smelled like oranges. I walked out the back door onto the summer kitchen, and the fragrance bombarded me. It was still chilly, only 46°, so no honey bees would grace the witch hazel, but still, I walked out to see the lovely flowers, on the 21st of January.

These flowers have a quiet grace. They don’t overwhelm you with opulence or vulgarity, but rather show the richness of pollen, much needed at this time of year for the honey bees, feeding the brood, developing workers for the coming spring. For winter-weary eyes, these flowers seem most welcome.mimi-witch-hazel

I go out to the bamboo grove to cut more canes. Still have several hundred more quarter-inch-diameter canes to cut, larger ones too, to thin out, to open up the grove so I can move about inside. As I cut, and pull out the canes, I try to toss them into piles of approximate diameter. The ones I can cut with my Felco pruners, I deem tiny, when I need the ratchet pruners they enter more substantial sizes and go into appropriate piles.

When a cane has grown 25 feet tall, it takes some doing to pull it down, and orient it towards the outside of the grove. I have to stay cautious not to poke my eyes with the side branches. My upper arms get a good work-out. I marvel at the beauty of these fresh canes. They have a greenish-yellow color and look like they’ve had a fresh coat of lacquer painted from top to bottom. And smooth!

Once I’ve cut about fifty canes, I get up, stretch, and rearrange the piles so I can pull them, butts first, inside the grove, in tunnels I’ve made in the grove to contain the curing canes. If I don’t, the wind will take the canes, blowing them every which way. I’ll have a huge game of pick-up-sticks. Once seems like more than enough to play that game.

At noon I quit to go in for a much needed break and lunch. The day has turned into a Colorado day, filled with dry air, sunshine galore, and crystal blue skies. Stiffly I walk over to the witch hazel. She doesn’t disappoint me. Not thick yet, but definitely visible, honey bees busily take the bright orange pollen, that I can detect on their pollen sacs, and move on to another flower. They have thousands and thousands to visit over the coming weeks. The flowers remain fragrant into March.

The season has begun. When will the snow drops bloom? The winter aconite? The Siberian blue squill? How well I know the procession until too many bloom all at once and like everything else about spring, I become pulled into the frenetic dance.