On a recent February morning, I looked out our kitchen window to the garden and saw a drab scene of way too much brown and gray. Frozen mats of dead leaves spread across the dormant flower beds. Even worse, I knew that when the thaw comes, those leaves will turn wet and slimy. Slugs will use them as roofs for the little bungalows they’ll build next door to their all-you-can-eat buffet of tender, new delphinium shoots. That morning, I was feeling a bit too brown and gray myself.

I needed to get out of the house, kneel in the dirt, and clear off the leaves before the slugs moved in. To lift the drabness, I wanted to feel the bite of winter’s chill in February, harder-edged than the hint of spring in the pale sun of March. So I layered up in flannel-lined jeans, a turtleneck, flannel shirt, cotton sweater, my trusty old windbreaker, a wool headband, and two pairs of gloves — waterproof thermals over thin knit liners. I realized this fashion statement was not even close to overkill, especially after my husband’s weather app reported 34 degrees in the Moscow sunshine. I tried not to think about the sunshine part, because I was actually working in the shade, near a stubborn blob of slush.

My gloved hands couldn’t budge the dead, matted-up leaves that had formed into sections of icy crusts, stuck fast to the soil underneath. I needed a hand-held cultivator for enough leverage to pry up the frozen mats, which wouldn’t fit into the weed bucket until I cracked them apart. No, really. I rocked. The few people who walked past our house that morning did a cartoon double-take when they spotted me. Nobody actually hooted, but I did get several side-eyed “Whaddyadoin’?” stares. I didn’t care, though. I was in harmony with the Garden Goddess, finding small bits of joy as I worked.

A few goldfinches gathered at a feeder above my head in the apple tree and didn’t fly off when I turned to smile up at them. Finches and other small birds know they can count on year-round snacks and unfrozen water in our garden. They see me out there often, shaking the feeders to make sure the seed is easy to reach. Sometimes birds let me tiptoe to within arm’s length as they perch, while I stand silently for a few moments, grateful for their trust.

Benjamin BadKitten, my chief garden staffer, passed up the chance to commune with the birds and me that morning. Sometimes when I call out, “Garden, Ben!” he’ll jump off the bed and follow me to our outdoor office. That morning, though, he just rolled onto his side and regarded me with sleepy eyes. I should have remembered that BBK doesn’t go back on the time clock until April Fool’s Day, an irony I appreciate but floats high above his tufted ears.

In 2½ hours, I’d cleared frost-bitten mats of leaves from nearly half our flower beds, but the temperature still hadn’t climbed anywhere close to flip-flops and shorts range. I’d learned that even two pairs of gloves couldn’t keep an impetuous gardener’s hands warm in February. So I left the drabness of brown and gray and went inside to our warm kitchen, with its open shelves of vintage cookbooks, red cooking pots and flowered teapots, and a tabletop scattered with garden catalogs.

Sydney Craft Rozen checks her garden daily for signs of the gazillion spring bulbs she planted last October. Email her at scraftroze@aol.com

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