You'd think that anything written on a scroll of papyrus would bristle with the wisdom and experience of ancient cultures: chronicles of might and conquest, disputes on philosophical matters, records of scientific discoveries. Tales of battle and love among the gods, or maybe gossipy anecdotes of misbehavior in high places—those would be OK, too. While there's a fair amount of all that, a lot of papyri are plain old financial records. Household accounts. Numbers and lists. They were just thrown out on the ancient Egyptian dust heaps, there to await discovery by future generations. (And 2,000-year-old Egyptian dust heaps must by now be very dusty indeed.)
To romantics, lists of income and expense don't have much appeal. To historians, though, they're meat and drink. When you find out how people made and spent money, you find out something about what they valued, how they ran their households, what they ate. You might not learn much about that culture's most epic achievements, but by reading between the lines you can learn a lot about what people did every day, and what their lives were like.
|Sand lovegrass (Eragrostis trichodes)|
I was thinking about papyrus and scrolls (and Piroulines) while looking at new growth in the sand lovegrass. Young shoots are beginning to come in with enthusiasm, and they are a bright, lively, unscarred green. The wide blades of fresh grass hardly resemble last year's growth, though. The older blades curled inward as they dried; each one is ridged and hollowed. Seasonal death took each blade and seed stalk in a unique way, giving the old growth texture and character. It has a history, a tale to tell.
Tales aren't only the province of the old, of course. Many of the bright young things in the garden have stories of their own. This crocus, for example, lost part of a petal, on only its second day of blooming. (I don't know how long that is in crocus years.)
|Crocus tomasiniana 'Ruby Giant'|
What happened? What hungry insect stopped in for a bite, or what wind took advantage of a weak spot to shear the petal off as it opened in the sun?
This tulip, too, has already had a hard-knock life:
|Tulipa praestans 'Shogun'|
It hasn't even gotten around to budding yet, but its leaves are battered and misshapen, especially compared to the pristine curves of its neighbors. What happened to it, all those inches underground, between its fall planting and the day it broke the surface a few weeks ago? What obstacle did it struggle against as it grew? I know about as much as if I were looking at Egyptian hieroglyphs with no Rosetta Stone to guide me. A story lies within, but what? Without knowing the language of flowers, I can't read between the lines.
What do they matter anyway, the small stories of the daily lives of plants? What do they matter, any more than the daily lives of people who lived so many centuries ago? What difference does knowing the price of lentils in ancient Egypt make to the price of lentils today? Maybe none. But maybe, knowing that someone went to market and paid hard-earned cash for food, thinking about menus and servings and the possibility of leftovers, maybe knowing that could ignite some spark of realization—an insight, a sense of connection, of continuity.
The sense that in some small way, we are akin.