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Spring ahead, eventually

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The clay-chomping rototiller sits idle near the mildewed shed. A cover of red clover runs amok, rising as high as a foot in places, waving like horticultural pompadours over expectant raised beds. Sneaky morning glories, natural insurgents, cavort on rusty tomato cages.

"Where is he?" they all seem to ask.

They'll have to wait a bit longer, as I'm hitting the pause button on spring projects. I know the to-do list by heart; it even feels like muscle memory. But I'm still a prisoner in winter's time zone and thawing slowly. In January and February, North Carolinians savor the thought of spring, with weekly hints and teases of color dotting the horizon. Spring is here, but I'm still surrounded—literally, in some instances—by winter.

In Orange County, we've been promised rural roadside debris pick-up since the winter's spate of storms. I haven't seen that cavalry yet, and many country roads now support debris piles that stretch from stop sign to stop sign. Homeowners have hauled their pine branches to the road in wheelbarrows and flatbeds. One neighbor added an entire tree stump to the pile that already sprawled past his mailbox. Drive around an unfamiliar curve at dusk, and you feel like you're shooting through a luge of decaying green and brown.

So far this year, "passive gardening" best describes my approach. Never before have I appreciated the simple moss plant, moving slowly into every muddy patch of our so-called lawn. These lowly tufts are survivors of the March ice storms and rainy deluges that washed away seeds and mulch. Need another champion for Spring 2014? How about our Piedmont's tenacious forest crawler, running cedar? Don't even try transplanting it; the plants have a survival plan of their own. But the plant's palate of green displays will at least brighten your day.

Other early wildflowers and volunteer vegetables are peeking out of the soil now, adding random splashes of colors to the oh-so-unkempt landscape. I want to notice and celebrate each addition. The birds, hens, roosters and coyotes awaken earlier each morning, proclaiming that we've indeed made it to Spring.

The other day, I raced home from work, ready to tackle the task of clearing a toppled hickory tree that lay sprawled across the garden gate. At last, I was ready to emerge from my hibernation. I changed clothes and headed for the back door. That's when I noticed an unread copy of The New York Times on the kitchen counter.

I wound up in a faded lawn chair, watching the slow, exquisite sunset while reading about the Heat and the Rockets and whether Jabari Parker will become a Celtic. I guess you could say I'm enjoying an extended spring break.

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