Laura Yuen
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"To anyone who has spent a winter in the north and known the depths to which the snow can reach, known the weeks when the mercury stays below zero, the first hint of spring is a major event. You must live in the north to understand it. You cannot just come up for it as you might go to Florida for the sunshine and the surf. To appreciate it, you must wait for it a long time, hope and dream about it, and go through considerable enduring."

The first time I read these words from the late environmentalist and nature writer Sigurd Olson, I felt a pang of pride. I've never bought into the whole "Bold North" sloganeering, but this passage nudged me closer to the concept of Minnesota exceptionalism. (Forgive me, fellow transplants.)

Our suffering during the coldest and darkest months of the year — or as Olson put it, our "considerable enduring" — fuels our appreciation for spring when it finally arrives. You can't tell me that people in Key West or Palm Springs break into a happy dance when greeted by their ever-loyal sun in late March.

But after such a wimpy winter in Minnesota, could spring's arrival feel as sweet this year?

"I think so," artist and gardener Jovan Speller Rebollar told me by phone from her home in rural northern Minnesota. "I'm still feeling desperate to get in my garden the same way I do when there are 3 feet of snow outside.

There is no snow in Speller Rebollar's garden in Osage, Minn. (population: 323), just outside Park Rapids. There hasn't been for some time.

With climate change, the calendar is no longer a reliable predictor for when to start her seeds. And that's true for both ends of seasonal extreme. Last year's seemingly eternal winter, one of the snowiest on record in Minnesota, delayed her planting by two weeks. Pity the Type A gardener with her best-laid plains.

"There's no way to stay ahead of it, which is problematic for gardeners," Speller Rebollar said. "We have to plan ahead, and we can't afford to fail. There's no relief or rescue plan for the small home gardener."

But as a gardener, she's always listening to her land. The ground speaks.

Gardeners are among the canaries in the coal mine of global warming, more attuned to the shifts in weather than the average person.

Speller Rebollar is checking on her chickens, which can usually find signs of life quicker than she. Are they pecking at more bugs than usual? And does that mean a more intense season for insects? She gauges the temperature of her compost — a thawing might indicate the ground might soon start to soften, as well.

Growing up in Los Angeles, one of her first memories of winter was visiting her grandparents' in Maryland. She and her brother and cousins had an epic snowball fight, ending with her running her tiny hands under hot water. "I thought my fingers were going to fall off," she said.

And yet the cold is what she is trying to preserve, through her day job as executive director of the Great Northern. The annual winter festival celebrates our typically harsh climate by way of pond hockey, the arts, Nordic skiing, and ice bars. It also hosts a climate solutions series featuring top thinkers on sustainability.

"How can we come together to preserve what's left of winter, and when possible, to reverse any damage we've done?" she said. "And also, to learn as a community how to adapt to the changing climate, to continue to celebrate what winter gives us, even when there is no snow."

Without the depths of snow this past winter, we may not have noticed what's missing this spring: the sound of water rushing from the melt or even the scent of leftover dog poop, finally thawed.

I have a feeling that expert gardeners like Speller Rebollar will still enjoy their bounty of strawberries and spinach, garlic and gooseberries this year, despite the curveballs from Mother Nature.

For the rest of us? We'll still enjoy spring, maybe because it might be fleeting, too. It's March in Minnesota, and I just saw my first mosquito. May we hold the sweetness of spring in the air while we still have it.