Thursday, January 5, 2012


or Alternate Realities

The story of Echo has always struck me as a sad one.  She made her mistakes, and plenty of them:  she distracted Juno while Jupiter amused himself elsewhere and then got found out; she fell for Narcissus because of his looks, despite his reputation for being conceited and heartless; then, instead of going for a brisk walk and getting over him, she pined away with unrequited love.  Really, she seems not to have done much but make mistakes.

What a price to pay, though, to be cursed by Juno only to repeat what others say.  Echo lost her own voice and the power of originality; she turned into a shadow of a person.  She may have learned to be resourceful, finding ways to lure Narcissus to her with his own words, and kind, giving him himself in his self-absorbed grief.  And yet she faded away to nothing, to an aura of sorrow and regret, and the endless awareness of what once-was/might-have-been.

I've been thinking about echoes lately in the garden, looking at seed pods and dried leaves and stems.  The marigolds have turned into scarecrow versions of their glowing, summer selves, and the sense of once-was resonates from every papery husk and bract.

And yet, they haven't faded away to nothing, not by a long shot.  Those husks have the power to call out in their own voices, a different power than they had when they were green.

I have a sudden craving for tamales.

The petals sing their own tune in the mild winter sun.

Each one has its own inimitable shape.

I tend to think of plants' flowering form as their "real" one.  I'll wonder what a seedling will become and forget that it already is a marigold, just not one in bloom; I'll look at a faded blossom and think, "That used to be a marigold," forgetting the seeds that lie within, turning the blossom into dozens of marigolds, even if they're not marigolds in flower.  Marigolds in seed don't resound with once-was or might-have-been, but with what-will-be (Lord willin' and the crick don't rise).  They have the power of originality like nothing else.

In these enlightened times we're less likely to think of echoes as the voice of a hubristic nymph who irritated the wrong people, than as sound waves reflecting off a hard surface—nothing faded about them, just the original sounds heard another way.  A marigold's genetic identity reflects differently off the warmth of summer than it does off the hard surface of winter.

And it's hard to find anything sad about it.


  1. Only you could may us see beauty in a dried out marigold husk with your beautiful photography and thoughtful narrative! I feel guilty for cutting mine down now!

  2. Oh, we are so shallow! We long for the bloom, but when it's gone, we pine for it, and anticipate it's return. But we forget that there is life in the seeds that are left. That those seeds are the reason for the bloom. Thank you, Stacy, for reminding us that we are not looking at the real beauty in the flowers, but that the real beauty is in the seed - and the life inside.

  3. Marigolds have papery husks reminiscent of tamales in NM but are soggy like fish&chip paper in the UK.

  4. I'm rather taken with the shark's teeth. I've never grown marigolds, I find the flowers too fierce in colour, but faded they are glorious.

  5. I love marigolds especially in the veg garden since they repel the critters I don't want in the veg garden and attracts those I do want...I love the look of these in winter...I will have to leave a few fading in the containers or beds this lovely!! So many varieties to try too...

  6. The color of marigolds is too intense for me, but after reading your post I'll look at them a little differently when I see them at the nursery this spring. :)

  7. Amazing photographs and wonderful words! I really enjoyed this, and I too will look at marigolds through new eyes!

  8. I'm not sure where to start, but this post touched me. So true, though I hadn't articulated it before, that all forms of a marigold are a marigold, not just the flower at peak bloom. It reminds me of something I read in Thich Nhat Hanh. He wrote about a Japanese quince that bloomed during a winter warm spell, then froze in a cold snap. When the weather warmed, he noticed a new generation of flowers on the quince. "I asked the japonica flowers: 'Are you the same as the flowers that died in the frost or are you different flowers?' The flowers replied to me: ... we are not the same and we are not different. When conditions are sufficient we manifest and when conditions are not sufficient we go into hiding. It's as simple as that.'"

    Hmm... now I'm acting as an echo :)

  9. Beautiful shots, Stacy, to accompany beautiful words. Sadly, the Sussex winter turns the papery husks of marigolds to black mush. That fourth photo is a joy and reminds me of deep fried courgette flowers eaten in Greece. Yum.

  10. What a lovely analogy, Stacy. The photos are amazing. What a difference a dry climate makes. Ours go to mush too...

  11. Karen, thank you! This one somehow escaped the frost until late, and so I left it standing and then to be honest forgot about it until I saw the sun shining through the petals. Otherwise I would have cut it down, too...

    Holley, thank you for that thoughtful comment! Yes, we always think of the flower as the “point” when to the plant it's just the means to an end, and the really exciting part of its life cycle is still to come. But then, to the bees the flower is the exciting part, too. We and the bees are on the same wavelength.

    b-a-g, you made me laugh out loud with that! That's what I get for reading the comments at work...

    Diana, the shark's teeth were a surprise the first time I looked at the photo full screen—I hadn't noticed them out in the garden. For some reason the fierceness is what I love about marigolds.

    Donna, I love the way marigolds look in the vegetable garden. Isn't it wonderful that they're useful, too... I want to try 'Tangerine Gem' marigolds this year—supposed to have a lemon verbena scent, which seems a little doubtful but worth a try.

  12. GirlSprout, if you feel like becoming a convert, you might try growing marigolds from seed. They're easy-peasy, and the plants are always much larger and healthier than the nursery ones.

    Christine, thank you. The Marigold Missionary seems to have done her work...

    Sheila, thank you for the story about the Japanese quince. Why does “it's as simple as that” never really seem as simple as that once you're out and about in real life? I'm glad this one spoke to you. You might enjoy Frannie Sorin's recent post at Gardening Gone Wild on the rhythms of nature:

    Dave, thanks. Black mush doesn't sound inspiring at all. On the other hand, fried zucchini flowers and Greece sound like inspiration at its best.

    Thank you, Janet. It would be interesting to compare seasonal routines. The Mush Factor must have you doing all the cutting back in autumn before things go all melty rather than in late winter, like we do here?

  13. Stacy, This is such a beautiful essay, and I love those sun-touched photographs. Thank you -- and Happy New Year. -Jean

  14. Jean, thank you--and a Happy New Year to you, too! I was going to say that I hope things go swimmingly for you next term, but that might be too damp of an image for you... I hope things go well, though!