The poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, by Wallace Stevens, uses blackbirds as a kind of touchstone for different perspectives. The birds are a recurring theme, sure, a point of departure, but also a way of testing moods and images against something constant. When I was in grad school for music history, every year the composition students were each asked to write music for a stanza from the Thirteen Ways. Their group concerts (called things like "Twelve Ways of Looking at Six Ways of Looking at a Blackbird") were always among my favorites—I loved seeing how such different perspectives, such powerful individuality, could spring from the same material.
|Crocus chrysanthus 'Cream Beauty'|
A friend of mine who teaches English starts his writing class every year by asking students to describe an apple. Sometimes they get stuck: how many ways can you say "roundish" and "red"? Then he offers suggestions: the role of apples in family traditions (Mom teaching me how to crimp a pie crust, and telling me about dinners of apple dumplings during the Great Depression); in seasonal rites (apple picking on a crisp, New England autumn day, fresh-pressed cider from a roadside stand); in the garden (showers of apple blossom petals, their scent filling the air; espaliers stretched against a wall; underplantings of daffodils); in the ecosystem (the soothing drone of bees, the gnawings of codling moth larvae, the barely bitten apple discarded by squirrels); in legend (forbidden fruit, apples of gold, dwarfs and evil step-mothers); in the economy (the complex journey from orchard to table).
His point is that even something as simple as an apple isn't self-contained or shut off from the world. It exists in a web of interactions. Suddenly my friend's students don't know how to stop describing an apple.
|C. chrysanthus 'Blue Pearl'|
In some ways, gardens are full of endless variety and wonder. In other ways, the same things tend to happen pretty much every year. (Not that that isn't also a source of wonder.) After my first year of blogging I found (and still find) myself stuck every so often—in a tiny garden, how much really changes from one spring to the next? What remains to be said? The bulbs come up, and I take photo after enthusiastic photo of the crocuses...which look remarkably similar to the photos upon photos of crocuses I took last year, which look an awful lot like the ones from the year before that.
Because the crocuses haven't changed. They just keep blooming in the same way (even if they are three weeks early) and in the same places as they always do.*
So far, my primary way of looking at a crocus is a gleeful one: "The crocuses are blooming! The crocuses are blooming!" It's a lot of fun, actually, but I wonder what would happen if I set myself the challenge of finding some new ways, too? Probably not thirteen of them—that seems a little excessive—but more than one. If your crocuses or some equivalent are up and running and you feel like taking part in the More than One but Fewer than Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Crocus (or Some Equivalent) Challenge, please do, and please let me know about it. Don't consider it anything as formal as a meme.
It would just be nice to wonder how to stop describing a crocus.
* This is not a complaint.