The Retreat from Moscow

It’s March 1st. March 1st, and 22 degrees F (or -6C). Also, we are expecting another three to five inches of snow.

The retreat from Moscow, 1812
The retreat from Moscow, 1812

As this year’s winter crawls towards spring, it puts me in mind of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow. Not that I was there, but I’ve read about it.

The sidewalk in front of our house, February 28th.
The sidewalk in front of our house, February 28th, 2014.

Of course, I’m not worried about surviving the journey. But for several years, early springs seemed to be the irreversible trend, and that makes this long winter harder to take. In fact, the average high temperature for March 1st in Chicago is supposed to be 41 degrees F (6 C).

Crocus blooming on March 4, 2012
Crocus blooming on March 4, 2012

There was no snow on the ground at the beginning of March, 2012, for example. Snowdrops and Crocus were blooming.

Our front garden, February 28, 2014
Our front garden, February 28, 2014

I hate to think how long all our snow and ice will take to melt. Then how long for the soil to thaw and warm. The 2013 spring was also slow in coming. Seeds of tender plants put into the soil in mid-May (usually considered a safe time) would often rot instead of sprout.

And at this point the snow has a different quality. It’s grimy and compacted, and far more tiresome.

Even so, I must keep in mind that eventually we will arrive in la belle France. Spring, I mean. And I suppose I will appreciate it all the more when we get there.

Tulipa praestans 'Unica' and Tulipa turkestanica
Tulipa praestans ‘Unica’ and Tulipa turkestanica

Fortunately, I can always enjoy spring in digital form at any time. And I can come up with lists of plants to buy. What do you do to keep winter from driving you crazy? Or do you even need to?

61 Comments on “The Retreat from Moscow

  1. I guess living in the maritime Pacific Northwest (and a mere 370 feet above Puget Sound) I should be in the “winter doesn’t need to drive me crazy category!” With hellebores blooming in my garden, camellia buds a week or two from opening and the occasional warmer days, I’m more inclined to actually stay outside working at various tasks: pruning, transplanting, weeding the winter veggie garden and general cleanup of herbaceous perennials. Yesterday was brilliantly sunny and low 50s; that teaser of Spring is more than enough to get me going. Today, March,1st, is a different story weather-wise — colder and gray. So perhaps it’s back to looking a what the mail order nursery’s have to offer.

    BTW, your sidewalk and driveway are so perfectly cleared of snow, kudos to you.

  2. For me it isn’t so much winter that is the problem but July and August when the sun beats down and everythin gincluding me suffers. I dissaprear indoors where it is cooler and plant what to do in Autumn. Same as you really just a different month!

  3. I have seen little green shoots cropping up around the bicycle rental at Millennium Park – I guess they’re daffodils or something similar, I can’t say I’ve memorized what normally happens at this point in what seems like an endless winter. It’s not just the fact that we’ve had warmer winters for years previous, but the extended length of this so-called “normal” winter makes it quite abnormal indeed. Let’s just hope this is not the new normal. And thanks for the beautiful bloom pictures.

  4. Ditto here. I’m not sure the day will come when the pellet stove isn’t roaring and I don’t have two shirts on to keep warm. But, I’m hopeful and in the meantime I’m reading blogs and quilting. 🙂

  5. I don’t know, Jason, but here in central WI with so many nights -20… in a row, and 48 days in a row below zero; any thought of this winter hanging on is brutal. For more than one reason, I could use an early spring this year.

  6. Oh you poor thing….even MORE snow???? how hideous. I know how you feel, our spring was really late last year and everyone was sick to the back teeth of it….this year we’re back on track….thank heavens. It’s even stopped raining, well during the day for two days and today we actually had sunshine. Here’s to you getting a spring

  7. Jason, as winter goes, we’ve been let off lightly here in Scotland compared to the rest of the UK. At the risk of upsetting my English neighbours (your English readers) they seem to be experiencing just what it’s like to live in Scotland.
    The sight of the snow you’ve been having send shivers down my spine – I do hope the weather turns for you pretty soon.

  8. Awful, Jason. I don’t know how you stand the endless snow especially when you should be enjoying early spring flowers. I hope it will improve soon.

  9. I am not really a fan of snow. I do like it before Christmas but then after that I am done. We are in for 1/4″ of ice tomorrow. Just praying the power doesn’t go out. the poor kids in our little rural town have already missed 18 days of school and have been attending school on Saturday and will miss most of their spring break. Winter is definitely pushing the limits around here! Yet today of all days my daffodils are blooming. sigh

  10. More snow for you – yikes!

    It really does feel like this winter has been a never ending slog. We’ve got a windchill of -45 degrees Celsius (-49 degrees Fahrenheit) here today and it will be a few days yet until it warms up (and snow is in the forecast for tomorrow). Ugh. It will be a long time before I see the crocuses and daffodils in my garden. I’ve been very busy with work so that’s distracting me from the gloom outside.

  11. I really enjoyed your first few paragraphs of this post. It reminded me of “War and Peace,” which I finally finished reading just a few years ago. I started it in high school, and tried picking it up several times. Finally committed to finishing it, and I did! I especially enjoyed (or was fascinated by) the psychology of the chess match between Napolean and the Russian troops. Anyway, it helped me to appreciate your post even more. And yes, one step forward, two steps back it will be until probably … May! And then it will happen all at once. But I must say, any progress toward spring now makes my heart sing. January was horrible!

    • I couldn’t get through reading War and Peace but I enjoyed listening to it in the car. The only spring-like thing I am seeing these days is the goldfinches are getting brighter feathers.

  12. It certainly has been (or should say, IS) a dreadful winter, as it is continuing still. I usually just read the winter away, and put on a few pounds. But this year I took on a complete kitchen redo to keep me entertained. Whoo boy! The designing, planning & purchasing was fun, waiting for things to arrive was anticipative, then on Feb 3 they gutted my kitchen. It’s March 1st and I’m still surviving with a microwave & coffee pot in the dining room. The folks at the Chinese restaurant greet me by name now. It’s just been one thing after another – a “murphy’s” kitchen redo. And I can’t even escape to the garden (well, I could, but… you know…). I have 3 snowdrops blooming, that’s it. I’m hoping a kitchen redo is like having a baby – once you hold it in your arms, you forget all the pain of getting there. Like you, I had things blooming this time last year. Love your pix of the crocuses & tulips – music to the eyes, so to speak. C’mon Spring!! C’mon kitchen!

  13. Is the current storm missing you with a foot or more? 3-5 inches at least is more manageable. Here they threaten a foot of snow along with ice. Who knows though, they rarely have gotten anything weather right this year. With the cold lakes, Spring will surely be a long time coming.

    • We woke up this morning with a good five inches. Although there was nothing good about it. Did you get your full foot of snow?

  14. Hi Jason, I guess my pity party is not as warranted as yours. At least our snow melts between falls. It is snowing now, but I don’t think we are supposed to get as much as some from this round. It is in the single digits, though, way colder than it should be.

    Thanks for your words of encouragement on my last post, about the garden tour and our daughter’s soon to come little one.

  15. I love that painting! And the beans’ sicknesses are keeping my mind off of winter and the lack of spring at the moment. A nasty bug in our house is making me want spring more than ever this weekend! I am thinking due to the ground conditions that I will be throwing some more seeds under my shop lights because I am really starting to get concerned about our growing season. The late spring last season pushed everything back at the nursery and in my garden. I remember going to my local nursery and they had very few plants due to the cold…so seed growing needs to take priority in the next week here. You take care…fingers crossed that by the end of March we have less snow! Nicole

    • So sorry the beans are sick. Hope it won’t spread to the adults, although in our house it almost always did. Seed growing is a good idea, I never force myself to create the space and make the time.

  16. I can only suggest looking on the positive side – there should be fewer garden pests and diseases after such a hard winter… poor consolation I know, when you are just dying to see a crocus!

    • Looking on the positive side has never been my strength. If I think about how there will be fewer pests, my mind then moves on to worry about all my fall-planted bulbs and perennials.

  17. I feel sorry for you with all that snow. That was case for us last year.
    This year spring has already arrived. We have around 8-10 C, and Next weekend maybe 10-15 C. Crocus and snowdrops everywhere.
    But all good will come to those who wait.
    Must make a post with the spring here.

  18. It sounds a bit grim ! It must stretch ahead for you at the moment but take heart that it has to come one day! I hope the snow is protecting everything underneath it.
    Here in the uk we seem to have got off lightly so far, and it has been the mildest winter for years. So far …

    • I tell myself that the bright side of all that snow is the insulation for the plants. But I do worry even so, since we had some bitter cold before the snow was that deep.

  19. I keep telling myself that we have been spoiled the past two years, especially in 2012 when I was working outside in February, and that this is more normal for Midwest winters. It doesn’t help much, though–I’ve been checking out armloads of garden books from the library and dreaming of all kinds of projects. But the way things are going, it may be May before we can get out in the garden!

  20. It is a terrible winter and I do hope the huge amount of snow we got melt fast (which is still a possibility). I feel however I must say a word for our winters. They are cold, but they include a good deal of sunshine. I have lived through an English winter and the mildness was enjoyable but the sun made itself extremely scarce. At least two thirds of the days in February this year were very bright and sunny – it helps the medicine go down.

  21. I really feel for you and your compatriots in the north. Napoleon probably would have retreated from Chicago this winter, from your description. So I supposed winter does have its uses. Have you considered moving to Florida? I would have suggested California but they have no water, which makes gardening difficult.

    • I’m sure Napoleon would have headed straight down I-57 towards Memphis, stopping at Graceland to take in the sights. He and Elvis had so much in common.

  22. I simply enjoy being crazy. Once you give up your sanity, you feel much better. Not sure who wrote this but it made me laugh so I’ll pass it on to you:
    Winter is the Justin Bieber of seasons. At first it was cute but the longer it’s around the more obnoxious it is and we wish it would stay in Canada.

  23. I just got back from a visit to my brother’s place where old snow is piled on older snow. You can barely get down the roads as plowed snow has no where else to be put. It is quite telling that the snow at the bottom of the piles is black fading to gray and eventually white at the top of the 10′ tall mounds.

  24. Oh! the white and red tulip combination is gorgeous. Oh! I am tired of this winter — it’s not snow here but thick, crusted, frozen solid ice much like Antarctica or Arctic.

  25. First of all, LOVE the “Retreat from Moscow” reference! Quite perfect. We’ve been hit hard lately with heavy snow (unusual here), but the rain is back and eventually will wash it away leaving death and destruction (of plants) in its wake. I’m especially concerned with seeing what I myself did when I was outside trying to shake loose some of the snow-laden branches. I couldn’t tell where our walkways ended and the beds with the recently blooming Hellebores began. Until I heard a crunch that definitely was not snow! Ah well. Spring is not as far away as it was an hour ago 🙂 and your lovely tulip photo gives me hope!

  26. I’m doing the same as you are, going back to photos of flowers gone by and remembering the good old days when things outside actually grew…..

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