Of daffodils and tanks

single daffodil bloom against dead leaves

In the dead of winter all is cold, trees are bare and the world seems rather dead or at least very much in hibernation.

The days are getting longer in January, but spring still seems very elusive. The world in winter’s grip.

So it’s extra exciting to see those very first, ever so tender green shoots poke out of the cold ground. If far enough north, those might be snowdrops. A hardy little flower that will poke up while there’s still plenty of snow around. It just needs the tiniest amount of bare ground. Then it shoots up and unveils its small white flowers.

snowdrop flowers surrounded by snow
Snowdrops surrounded by snow

Here in the Southern US where I live, the harbinger of spring is the daffodil. A few warm days even in January and you’ll see slender green blades inch their way skyward. Next thing they thicken out and there are buds and you know it’s just not going to be that long before those blossoms pop out.

daffodil buds as ice storm hits
Daffodil buds as ice storm hits

An ice storm

But then it gets cold again. Even an ice storm, like we had a few weeks ago where everything was covered by a quarter of an inch of ice. Very clear ice, but ice nevertheless.

You look at those tender buds encased in that ice and think that surely that will be the end of that. The plants tried, but we got a freeze and ice. Surely they’re not going to recover from that. We’re just not going to have much for spring flowers this year.

A few days go by and the ice melts away. Frankly, the plants don’t seem much worse for wear. One of those truly amazing things. All that ice. And frost. How could any bud possibly make it through that?

But it did.

Not only did the one bud make it. But soon flowers popped out. Now every day there are more. Beautiful flowers. So bright. So golden yellow. Like little spots of sunshine come down to earth.

Each seeming to shout that spring is coming and there’s nothing that winter can do to stop it.

A dark and stormy night

But then we got a dark and stormy night of torrential rain. 

If the wind doesn’t get those slender plants, surely the heavy raindrops crashing down will break the blades and flowers. Beat them to shreds. 

Yet when morning came, after the storm moved on, the flowers were still there. All that happened really was those daffodils were now bent down close to the ground. Still golden yellow. And a day or so later they had straightened up again to point to the sky.

There is incredible resilience in growing things in nature. Plants make it through very adverse conditions even as they seem so fragile. Not only do they make it through, but they prosper. Instead of being knocked down and that’s the end, they’re back. With more of them popping out. 

Other spring flowers now joining into the chorus. Even trees begin budding.

This year we’re seeing an absolutely astounding color explosion in our front yard. And it’s only February. I’m thrilled to enjoy every minute of it. Looking at that relentless perseverance lends itself to drawing some parallels.

Destroyed Russian armored vehicle by roadside in Ukraine
A burned-out Russian armored carrier is all that’s left after a meeting with the Ukrainian army

A special operation

Because a year ago a large country in Eastern Europe decided it wasn’t content with its little neighbor and launched what they euphemistically called a ‘special operation’. In reality a brutal annihilation campaign. With the goal to knock out the entire country of Ukraine in less than a week. While replacing the government there with a puppet ditto that would be happy to forever do the bidding of the masters in the Kremlin.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Kyiv.

Because that ragtag Ukrainian army held their ground. The Russian column simply stopped. Parked along the road and eventually melting back across the border.

The entire war shifted to the eastern part of Ukraine into a long and very slow slog.

Here we are a full year into this incredibly brutal war of attack that was only supposed to last less than a week. With no particular end in sight. 

Because guess what. To the Russians. Ukraine looked frail, like those little flowers in my front yard. Couldn’t possibly withstand the blast of arctic air. The Chill from the North. They would surely be crushed.

After all, each one of those tender daffodils is entirely at the mercy of the environment around it.  

The evil overlord masterplan was to replace a democratically elected government and make Ukraine an interior part of a reemerging Russian Empire. A plan that is fading further and further away. Like winter when faced with an explosion of spring flowers.

Still standing

Because Ukraine stands. Yes, with horrible losses. But it’s still standing and fighting back. Beyond its borders, where not that many years ago there were all kinds of questions about the relevance of NATO and we saw a changed Europe where Russia was increasingly a key trade partner, we’re seeing NATO united. 

Plus the thing I never, ever expected to see — being born in Sweden and having done military service there: The day when Sweden applied for membership in NATO. After all, Sweden fought its last war in 1809, a staunchly neutral country. Sweden fought its last war in 1809 (losing Finland to Russia).

But over the last year the security situation in Europe has fundamentally changed. There’s recognition that if Ukraine falls, it will just be a matter of time before the same playbook will be applied to other former East Bloc countries.

We’re talking Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania. The Balkan states. Given the rumblings about getting back to the Russian Empire in all its glory, Finland will also be in the crosshairs, since it was controlled by Russia from 1809 until after World War I.

Ukraine didn’t cease to exist after Holodomor. (Learn about this genocide here and here.) Wounded hurt, pushed down, but it didn’t cease to exist. They endured another 58 years of being one of the socialist republics making up the Soviet Union. 

Until after perestroika and glasnost unfolded they gained their independence. 

A moment of hope and opening

The early 1990s was an exciting time in Eastern Europe. Former East Bloc countries made the transition to be come democratic nations. There was the possibility of actually seeing a Russia that was open and ready to become a real part of Europe.

Of course that ended with the door swinging shut as president-for-life Putin vowed to make Russia great again. To resurrect the Russian Empire into all its very former glory. 

Those plans apparently leave no room for an independent Ukraine. So here we are a year into a conflict that was supposed to be over in less than a week. With more destruction ahead.

Yet I’m encouraged by how this scrappy country stands up against an invader that at least on paper should be able to walk right across them.

It seems just like those early daffodils stand up even as they get hit by ice, wind and torrential rain. But emerge still standing. And blazing light into what has been a brown and rather dead world. New growth and hope. While winter might roar, it can’t stop the coming spring, which will win in the end.

To paraphrase the Bard: All that looks frail is not actually so. Quite the contrary.

large cluster of daffodils in bloom