Artsy-craftsy little towns seem to breed in the Finger Lakes area of New York. Walk into a shop along any Main Street, and you'll find yourself up to the eyebrows in artisan-made glass paper-weights and figurines, pottery mugs with iridescent glazes, hand-dyed silk scarves, and warmly glowing, inlaid woods. In those stores you move slowly and keep your hand-bag close, lest you knock something breakable to the floor.
I lived in one of those little towns during my mid-20's. Sometimes after a stressful day I would make a beeline for its row of boutiques, that hushed world where slowness and gentleness reigned, and beautiful things murmured from every shelf and corner. I would pick up a delicate objet d'art and hold it nestled in the palm of my hand as if it were a wild bird until the stress subsided.
I'm not sure why it worked. Perhaps it called up deep memories of wonder, of being six and standing rigid and breathless with awe as a ladybug or inchworm or roly poly tickled its way across my palm. Or maybe the hush reminded me of childhood excursions in the mountains, and Dad whispering "Don't move" in my ear, his hand on my shoulder to still me, while a mule deer crossed the path in front of us. For whatever reason, in treating things gingerly and holding still, my more grown-up self would remember that hush of wonder for a moment. I'd walk back out of the store comforted to know that not all problems have to be conquered—some of them really can be tamed instead.
I've never been a huge fan of gravel mulch, which is a pity out here in The Land of Gravel Mulch. It is an improvement over thirsty lawns and mowing, but still—in most situations gravel is hot and harsh and full of edges in a climate that can be all of those things on its own, without any help from the peanut gallery. Plants don't care about my preferences, though. Most of the things that thrive here prefer poor, rocky soils. I've ended up mulching a couple of the beds in the garden with various sizes of flat, rounded river pebbles, the kind I dig out of the garden anyway. In late winter, when I've trimmed back the autumn sage and gaura so that the crocuses beneath them can get some sunlight, the long bed beside the patio is very gravelly indeed, in the southwest's characteristic "dry riverbed" sort of way.
I dream of (and plant) swaths of crocuses in all the beds but get little dots of them instead. From a distance the individual flowers are kind of disappointing (though up close they're as lovely as anyone could wish). In the gravel beds, however, I've begun to find those dots of bloom enchanting. They've nestled in among the larger pebbles, where they look fragile and shy and wild, as if they've blown in on the wind and are taking shelter. Their translucent petals remind me of moth wings, and I almost expect them to flutter off if I startle them. They're so very ephemeral, especially next to the solidity of stone. I find myself moving slowly, gently around them, as if they were birds to be coaxed to the palm of my hand, and touching them with feathery light fingers.
The crocuses are no more wild than the artisan-made figurines I used to cherish against inner storms. But they, too, make me think of that sudden hush when something wild and beautiful crosses your path, of the child's wide-eyed wonder when some small, six-legged creature makes its way across the landscape of your hand. Suddenly I'm less interested in conquering the garden beds to impose my vision of glorious drifts of color, and more content to have my desires tamed by those little dots of bloom.
Perhaps I've been tamed and conquered both...
I'm continuing with the Thirteen (or Fewer) Ways of Looking at a Crocus (or Some Equivalent) Challenge I set myself a couple of posts ago. Some of my favorite bloggers have responded to the invitation, too. Please pop over to Experiments with Plants, where b-a-g revels in the color saffron and posts a tasty-looking recipe to boot. And HolleyGarden at Roses and Other Gardening Joys writes beautifully about small things in A Bloom of Significance.