Winter was a new experience after we moved to the farm from Black Lake.


It seemed colder, longer, and more isolating.  We couldn't run across the street to meet our friends for a day of ice skating or sledding.  There was no large group of kids to play with as we waited for the school bus.  Our closest neighbors were now a quarter of a mile away.


My brother and sister and I waited alone in the cold at the top of our driveway for the school bus.  We did have hills to slide on, but no lake for skating or fishing--the closest ice rink was five miles away in Carver.


The first winter we spent at the farm was especially difficult.


My mother developed pneumonia at Christmas time, and it took her a long while to recover.


Minnesota winters can be brutal and I remember that one as especially cold.  There were short episodes of being snowed in, waiting for several days for the county plows to get to our little road.  We all went a bit stir crazy and were more than ready for spring.


March finally rolled around.  The snow was melting and on days when the sun was shining the air hinted at warmer weather.  But March was a capricious month.


One day the breeze would be warm and balmy and you might even catch sight of a robin, the next it would be gray and threatening snow.


One Sunday afternoon while my father was trying to nap, my siblings and I were encouraged to go for a hike.  We decided on Birch Hill as our destination.  It was far enough away to keep us out of doors for several hours, but not such a lengthy walk that Cass, my sixyear-old sister, would get tired halfway there.


Things were a bit wet and muddy, but most of the snow was gone.


We started off through the open alfalfa field, making our way to the adjoining meadow.  The sun shone with the soft light of spring, making everything seem muted and fuzzy around the edges.  Fluffy white clouds were scattered across the pale blue sky.


A slight breeze ruffled our hair, now free of winter's wool stocking caps.  We could see the faintest hint of green beneath last year's dead meadow grass and buds were just beginning to swell on the red dogwood branches.  Bird songs filled the air and everything smelled of new life.


We had never before paid attention to the all of the changes spring brings.  The meadow sloped gently upwards, rising gradually, and suddenly the bright white trunks of the birch trees were visible.


The small grove of white paper birch looked slightly out of place, almost as though the trees had been intentionally planted there.  No other birch trees could be found anywhere else on the property, just this small grove in the midst of cotton woods, oaks, and elms.


As we approached the grove it appeared as though there were purple balls scattered beneath the trees, even on top of the patches of snow, but upon closer inspection we realized the purple balls were actually flowers—tiny, velvet, upside down purple bells carpeted the ground beneath the trees.


We were amazed.  We had never seen flowers in the snow.


My little sister immediately wanted to pick some to take to my mother.


"No," I said, "Let's bring mother here.  Let's surprise her with the first spring flowers!"


My brother and sister agreed this was a good idea.  We hurried back home as fast as we could through the final remnants of snow, last years soggy grass, and the muddy field.


When we arrived, we excitedly told our mother that we had a surprise to show her.  We knew that mother would have excuses so we let Cass do the begging since she was the baby of the family.


After much cajoling, my mother reluctantly agreed.  She pulled on her ratty old winter car coat and her black rubber boots and off we went.  It wasn't easy trying to hurry through the mud in the alfalfa field, but soon we were in the meadow and approaching Birch Hill.


When my mother saw the flowers, she just stopped and stared, then let out a quiet awestruck "oohh."


Saying nothing, she began to walk very carefully beneath the trees looking at the tiny flowers.  We followed silently in her footsteps.  It felt like we were in church.


"What are they, Mama?" Cass asked in a near whisper.


"They're crocuses," my mother answered softly, "tough little flowers that will bloom even in the snow—nature's spring miracle."


It was then I noticed tears glistening on my mother's cheeks.


"Are you OK, Mama?" I asked a little worried.


"Yes, honey," she answered smiling, "I'm just so very happy you shared this special surprise with me."


From that point on, a pilgrimage to find the crocuses became a yearly rite of spring until I grew up and moved away.


Sometimes we all went together, sometimes my mother went alone or I did, especially during moody adolescence, but each year we eagerly awaited that first miracle of the season.

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