I had to mow the grass today for the second time this year, an appalling side effect of global warming. (I know, I know: Entire countries are at risk of sinking beneath the ocean, and I’m complaining about mowing my grass an extra month of the year. It’s a first-world problem.) I didn’t think it looked all that bad — I could still see the tops of my shoes when I walked in it, and from my study window the dead nettle made a pretty sort of fuchsia haze over the yard — but with a reel mower you can’t let it get too long, and so I took my lunch break at yard work. With a reel mower, though, I can set the blade high enough to lop the tall weeds and reveal the lower-growing violets and the buttercups, which have crept through much of the back yard in the past few years.
I’ve said this before, but I think it bears repeating on the first day of spring: as a practice I would rather take what the yard gives me, welcome the violets and ignore the plantain than regulate it all into a placid green mediocrity. If that sounds like a prescription for public policy, maybe it is: if you won’t risk the weeds, you can’t have the wildflowers. Besides, there’s enough weeding to be done in the garden. Do I really need more in my life to manage?
I could plant flowers. I do plant flowers. (In theory, at least. There’s a flat of them on the sidewalk that’s been sitting there two weeks now waiting to be planted.) Somewhere in a patch of taller flowers I spared because I liked seeing that fuchsia haze from my window (and which a bumblebee was later appreciating, á la Frost’s butterfly) is a peony we planted years ago, amid straight grass and raised garden beds. I expect it will show its head and bloom as it does every year, and I’ll feel as I always do that I ought to dig it up and move it somewhere more prominent, and maybe this year I will, but more likely I’ll think the same thing next year.
A flower is a kind of gift, in a way, to anyone who sees it. But it seems to me even more a gift if blooms of its own accord: I can simply be grateful. The birds sing all morning without breaking for a pledge drive, the wildflowers bloom without a thought for me, and I needn’t feel that I owe any particular debt or responsibility to any of them — except, perhaps, to appreciate their beauty. I appreciate the tiny ones hidden in the grass and nestled in the green all the more so, because I have to look close to see them. You can see a peony from your car window: not so the violets. Nor the bluets on the roadside, nor the clumps of little lavender flowers that have sprung up along the edge of the woods. They’re there for anyone who looks, but only for those who look. And looking is the real gift.
So I think I’ll leave that peony where it is, among the dead nettle and daisies, where nobody will see it but us. If the neighbors with the neat green lawns don’t appreciate the wildflowers, they won’t really appreciate the peony either.