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.