It’s hard to tell when things are dead in the desert. I’m a pretty intermittent gardener, but more than once when I’ve gone outside to prune away something I was sure was gray and dead, I’ve been startled to find green wood within.

This winter was colder than any I can recall since moving to the desert, three nights in a row below 20F. The mesquites shivered and dropped their green leaves, the prickly pears shed their pads in piles around them, and as one walked down the streets one could guess at which cacti were natives and which were imports by which had turned the deadest shades of yellow. Our bougainvillea went brown and dead, but, well, it does that every winter, at even the gentlest freeze–and this was not a gentle freeze.

The temptation was to cut all the dead growth away, but gardeners warned that that would damage the plants, that it was better to wait for the green. We waited, and wondered whether or not the mesquite we’d planted when we bought this house was looking deader than usual or not, and decided not, and kept waiting.

Until seemingly overnight–though it never really is overnight–the mesquite erupted with bright green leaves, so bright I find myself wondering whether the mesquite is looking more alive than usual. Now, yellow blooms dangle from its branches, and the remaining prickly pear pads are dotted with buds.

But the wildflowers remained sparse, and the bougainvillea remained brown and gnarled beneath our window. As the weather warmed, we wondered if maybe this was the winter it had died off for real, if it was time to prune back those unattractive dead branches at last.

Then a few days ago, when within in their tangled heart, we saw the first green leaves at last, and I remembered that really, nearly every winter I wonder if this is the winter the bougainvillea has died at last.

This winter was harsher than most, yet not as harsh as we feared–not harsh enough, in the end, to hold back signs enough of spring.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *