I became a gardener one fine spring day in 1961. I was sitting in Miss Cherry’s first grade class and the previous week each of us had filled an empty milk carton from the cafeteria with soil (of course we called it dirt) and pushed a pumpkin seed into the hole we had made with our fingers. After we watered them and wrote our names on the waxy sides of the milk cartons we waited for something to happen. But nothing did. Some people gave up hope or simply lost interest and forgot to water their seeds but I kept returning to my little milk carton on the windowsill every day, determined.

After what seemed like an eternity (probably an entire week) I came to school one morning and saw that the soil had heaved during the night and a small seedling had just started to emerge; the light green loop of a living stem became visible, achingly slowly at first and then, within a few days the new seedling was upright and alive. The first two true leaves were there hanging limply framed by the split halves of the cotyledon, exhausted, like a butterfly (another classroom experiment) that had just emerged from its cocoon. I looked at that seedling with childlike awe and somehow I selfishly believed some power within me had made it happen. The thrill of that moment has never left me and although I didn’t realize it until many years later, my life as a gardener had germinated along with that pumpkin seed. I proudly took the new seedling home with me and carefully planted it in our tiny six-by-eight-foot vegetable garden where it proceeded to thrive. Actually it took over, choking everything in sight without ever producing a single pumpkin. Years later, my interest in gardening developed deeper roots and blossomed. Unlike the seedling, it emerged unnoticed with me mostly unaware of what was happening but from that time on I have been drawn to the soil the way some are called to the sea.

Everyone who suffers through the long months of a cold winter rejoices when spring finally arrives but gardeners are a special breed and they celebrate it and, I believe, appreciate it differently. When everyone else is enjoying the convincing onset of warmer weather, winter-weary gardeners are busy plotting, planning and most of all dreaming. We obsess about rhizomes and roots while keeping a wary eye out for late frosts. After months of being tormented by those impossibly beautiful, nearly pornographic seed catalogues, we finally get to tap our tiny seeds into the warming soil.

People celebrate spring in all sorts of ways but nothing brings you closer to understanding the sublime beauty of that season than being a gardener. For us a packet of seeds is like holding a palm full of magic beans. As a general rule I think gardeners are born optimists even if we tend to complain and lament about the weather a bit more acutely than most people. It comes with the territory since we have more at stake and if a frost bottom gardener gets dealt a mortal blow in mid-June we never snicker, even inwardly. Partaking of any sort of gleeful schadenfreude could only jinx ourselves and bring disaster. Did I mention that we are also a suspicious lot? We know all sorts of painful disappointments and offer heartfelt condolences to the bereaved instead. Certainly, we’ve all had more than our share of mishaps, pestilence, critters and plain old bad luck. But we rarely give up. There’s always next year.

I once thought that watching a germinating seedling emerging from the soil was about the most wonderful thing I had ever witnessed. Each spring I get to recapture that belief with the same childlike awe. It hasn’t diminished even the slightest in all the years since a single pumpkin seed and a milk carton with my name inexpertly scrawled on it sat on a window sill in my past.

Robert Skydell owns Fiddlehead Farm in West Tisbury.