I tend to mark the seasons by plants. Some connections are obvious, strawberries and honeysuckle in June, apples and pumpkins in October. After the hard freeze in November, time seems to stop. By January, even the kale has given up the ghost. By then, I no longer notice.

Deep winter, rhythms cease. Some of us lose our way. Age teaches me little but patience; sometimes that is enough.

Now in mid-February the ground remains frozen, and will be for another month. In a week or so, however, impossibly green slivers of grass-like leaves will break through the ice, marked with silver stripes down their middle. And in two weeks, egg-shaped cups of purple and yellow and white will flare open with the sun, exposing bright yellow stamens, the first smell of sex since the world died.

Crocuses flower from February to April--the earliest flowers defy logic, brilliant bursts of color calling bees still slumbering in hives. The plants are small, about 3 to 5 inches tall, with relatively large flower heads formed by 6 petals. Some varieties have striped petals.

Crocuses will propagate without much help, and are not terribly picky about where they'll grow; they do best in full sun. I scattered mine throughout the garden and the lawn. Just bury the crocus corm a few inches deep; I have seen further depths (5") recommended--just remember that corms cannot read, so don't worry too much. If too shallow, however, squirrels might gobble up the corms.

Crocus patches tend to spread out over the years. If you want, you can dig up some corms in the fall to share with friends.

If you do grow them in your lawn, let them grow without cutting for about 6 weeks after they have flowered so that they can store enough energy to reward you again next spring.

Crocuses are native to the Mediterranean region; one variety, crocus sativus, is the source for saffron. It takes up to 4000 flowers to make 1 ounce of saffron. It flowers in the fall.

As is common in botany, names for Old World plants are often given to plants found here. Early colonists named one early flowering plant the prairie crocus; this is not a true crocus. Also misnamed is the autumn crocus (or meadow saffron)--Colchicum autumnale--which contains the poisonous alkaloid colchicine, used historically for the treatment of gout. Physicians still use colchicine for the same condition.

By this time of year, I have just about given up on prayer. Nothing seems possible. This early bright drop of color reminds me just how little I know.

The Spring Bulb Guide, http://www.bulb.com/springguide98/crocus/01.asp#vernus
The Crocus, http://gardenline.usask.ca/misc/crocus.html
Crocus, http://www.botany.com/crocus.html
Poisonous Plants and Animals, http://library.thinkquest.org/C007974/1_1aut.htm