We know spring is on its way

Outside my office window, young tree branches extend with brittle hope.

I look at them, wondering whether nature feels as exhausted and tired of trying as the gray day makes it seem.

Some of the older trees are wounded, their branches broken off and exposed. The jagged edges are a warning of what could come. I feel the dread of a late ice storm or a too-heavy burden of unexpected snowfall.

It is a dull, cold day. I need reassurance.

I tell myself that sap runs inside those trees.

But only the birds seem imperturbable, landing with exuberance on the feeders, chirping noisily over the sunflower seeds.

The dreary gray of February evokes longing for sun and clear skies, for warmth and life.

When our son, Erik, was a little boy, I used to take him outside to look for spring as soon as mid-February rolled around. The winter witch hazel would bloom first; the white, lacy flowers were a certain overture to the arrival of slivery green crocus leaves and slender, finger-like green shoots announcing a coming day of the daffodils.

Hyacinths could be found wrestling their fluffy way through the wood chips; camellias would rise to the occasion. We'd walk all corners of our yard after school, looking for signs of springtime that might have tiptoed in during the day.

Motherhood and early hours go together. Erik is a young man now, in his third year at college, and I keep late hours these days. It can be midnight before I head for bed.

This winter, I learned that a wholly different life awaited my attention. Not green shoots and tiny purple flowers, but visitors who arrive in the deepest darkness.

Last week, during a night of moonlit clarity, my husband, Ralf, called me into the dining room. He opened the door to the deck and we stepped out. I heard feather-light rustling to my left. Ralf turned on a flashlight and began counting.

"One, two...." he said.

"Goodness," I whispered.

Almost a dozen deer had grouped themselves in the corner of our little backyard. They stood in unconscious beauty, still for a quiet moment, then stepped with delicacy and sweet indifference through the brush and bushes.

One looked at us with no curiosity at all, or so it seemed to me.

It was cold and dark and raw. Life was walking through the night with quiet surety.

The next day was dank and gray again. I looked out my office window at the corner where the deer had stood, past the brittle branches of young trees, not far from broken and jagged branches from elder ones.

The light from the sky was low and sad. But when I wished for energy and warmth, a hot ball of sunshine in a Carolina blue sky, I remembered the deer in the yard and their certain and knowing stillness.

Life is everywhere. Life is holy.

Nature will offer us another spring, after all.