The beginning of the calendar year coincides with the beginning of another annual cycle of renewed growth in the natural world. Winter has decided to pay at least a brief visit to Philadelphia, but even if the weather gets colder and grayer for the next two months, it will not be able to stop the progression of new life outside. Forsythia buds are swelling along the length of the plants' messy, whippy branches, and dogwood buds are prominent at the tips of the twigs. When I dragged out the Christmas tree I noticed that the beech tree in the front yard is covered with pale frosted brown cigar-shaped buds that will open in April. Even under a blanket of rotting snow, the sturdy stem of the hellebore holds the downward-facing blossom aloft like an umbrella. Spring will come.

2012 was a annus horribilis to go in the record books for a large number of people I know, myself included. Job losses, illness, broken relationships, scary diagnoses. A year of sadness, one friend described it.

There may still be several months of darkness ahead, but despite what is in our hearts, outside each day brings a few more moments of light as the earth tilts towards the sun every so slightly more.

If I kneel down and push away the fallen leaves I can see the tiny ruby blossoms of hardy cyclamen. They'll be followed by the strange, fragrant shrub Chimonanthus in a few weeks, then witch hazels, ornamental quince, crocus, spring-blooming camellias, and finally the early daffodils. However inconspicuous, starting now there should be something blooming in my garden until next winter.

I will be looking for these signs of beauty and life. One of the rewards of gardening is the reminder that we, and our problems are small. It's a feeling of insignificance, but in a good way. Greater forces are at play in the world, and walking through a garden, even in January, we observe that this too shall pass.