For feral flowers gone a-ramble over roots and moss, from the tumbledown stones of a life’s foundation. From the mossy bones of a house that must once have been tidy, must once have been kept tidy by her who planted the bulbs whose blooms return each year long after her own has faded from the earth. A streak of gold in the slow-greening woods, a proud adornment to a modest house. Now in defiance of all sense and logic the adornment outlives the adorned, and by the grace of God and springtime has come to pay its respects. Flowers that mark the grave of a life, of lives once made and joined and shared. Of a way of life gone from this place, and too quickly by us forgotten. The earth remembers.
For the crocus, baptized by mud, rising quiet through the dark earth and into the light, green shoots in the winter’s first waning, unnoticed for the shivering. Blooming now as the frost gives way in Lenten purple and Easter white. And gold: You did not know they blossomed in gold. Are there more colors? you asked. I said that if there are I have not seen them, but I would not presume to limit the palettes of God and horticulture. I would not presume to define the crocus.
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.
A glorious day, warm and bright. Having time to spend, and wanting to feel hopeful for the changing of a season, I sat where I could see the first full blooms of spring — but found myself distracted by the leavings of winter. Unloved and unnoticed, these masses of grays and browns, bare rock and tree and mud and crumbling leaf. But examine them closely in the dusky light of a fading afternoon, and the tattered monochrome resolves itself into a deep-textured symphony of shape and line shaded from the palette of a master.
Originally published in The Northern Agrarian, April 2008.
In the woods behind my house is a clump of daffodils. Each year they emerge with the first false temptations of spring and for a few brief weeks throw bright yellow sparks from the still-brown floor of the forest, garishly urging the calendar onward. Then their blossoms wilt and return to the ground, and I forget about them.
I have lived in this house for ten years, and the woods in which the daffodils bloom are, in a legal sense, my woods. But I didn’t plant the daffodils, and I don’t know who did. In ten years I have barely set foot beyond the fence that encloses the back yard — a fence I built to keep in my dogs but which has fenced me in almost as effectively. The daffodils are at most twenty feet on the other side of the fence, and each year when they bloom I think I should tend them, or fertilze them, or plant more. Each year I do nothing.
This spring, for the first time, I squatted next to them for a closer look.