Ghivizzano didn’t really have a winter this year. The last week of November and beginning of December were cold. Night-time temperatures were below freezing and the days were chilly but not bitterly cold. Then around mid-December, the cold disappeared. The daily highs were usually around 11 degrees and the night-time lows never reaching zero. It rained regularly, and sometimes intensely. But there were stretches of wonderful sunshine, too, a terrific relief from last winter’s dreary weeks and months. This pattern continued through January (and heavy rains resulted in many landslides throughout the country, very unusual for January).
Pepper and I traveled in the United States for the month of February, so I don’t have first-had experience of Italian weather. But we exchanged emails and messages with our friends, so were regularly updated with the general weather conditions. Our Italian friends told us of the rains and of the sunny days, never mentioning cold.
Meanwhile, in January and February, parts of the U.S. experienced wave after wave of snow, ice and record-breaking low temperatures. Pepper and I were incredibly fortunate that the great majority of our American vacation was filled with sunshine. The last Sunday of our visit to Little Rock saw the arrival of a fast-moving hail and snowstorm, which shut down the city for a couple of days. Otherwise, our travels were not negatively impacted by bad weather.
Our journey ended in the Northeast, where show lay on the ground. The maximum temperatures each day were barely above freezing. But the sun accompanied us, creating beautiful canvases of bare trees, snow banks, and granite outcroppings.
As soon as we landed in Italy in early March, we peeled off our jackets. It seems that spring has already arrived in the Serchio Valley – almost a month earlier than years past. On our ride home from the airport, explosions of yellow captured my attention, forsythias in full bloom in the gardens along the road. On the hillsides, white blossoms revealed pear and almond trees popping out from the austere browns of the still-naked chestnuts, acacia, and oak.
The next morning, I walked down to the Ghivizzano market, the first time in more than a month that I had done so. What a beautiful, warm day it was and it highlighted the striking contrast of the same walk a month before. Chinese magnolias are already dropping their petals. Early spring is their moment and this year, the creamy white blooms and deep purple cups seem fuller and more elegant that years past. Daffodils are still in bloom, but already dying. As the earliest arrivals, I had missed their sunny-yellow dance.
The camelias are in full bloom, their rich drinkable-red flowers popping out against the glossy-green foliage. They must be in bloom for a while now, as the bed of fallen flowers beneath each bush attests.
The entire week in Ghivizzano has been beautiful, with one warm day followed by another. During lunch, Pepper and I eat in the courtyard, the sun warming our backs and a cool north breeze chilling our fronts. I notice that the sun is high in the sky again, and now manages to sail over the mountain to the west in its evening descent. This means that sunset is now at 6 p.m. and it’s light outside until almost 7 (and Europe doesn’t change its clocks until the end of March.)
Chainsaws roar, removing dead limbs and cutting down dead trees. Birdsong flies through our open windows from every tree and bush. And the impossible greens of spring, from olive to lemon-lime to forest, bombard the eye wherever I turn.
The weeds and grasses have gotten their usual head start, taking advantage of the bare trees to take in as much sunlight as possible. The calendar says that spring is still a few days away, but the world around me says that the season is already here.