or A Moment of 'Meh'
A fever that lasts for a day—that's what ephemeral used to mean. In the 14th century it was a medical term to describe illnesses of short duration. Only later, over the course of several hundred years, did the meaning of something gone in a flash extend to flowers and insects and experiences. (I do like a word with a past.)
When we talk about "spring ephemerals" I wonder idly sometimes whether we're really referring to the season's colorful, short-lived flowers, or whether we're back to human fevers that last for a day. Such heady, dizzy excitement for this flash-in-the-pan experience—like gold fever, only without the prospectors and picks and mules and claim-jumpers and boom towns. (But other than that, just the same.) We work ourselves up to fever pitch when those first leaves appear and savor every minute of growth and bud and bloom. We know that a few too many weeks of yellowing leaves will follow, but they will have been worth it for the short-lived, intense enjoyment of those flowers. What we don't want is to work ourselves into a state of hopeful excitement for something that turns out to be—
But let's start with the enjoyment. Take the Lady Jane tulips (again). (Apparently, they are not really Tulipa clusiana, in case that matters.*) As buds and half-open flowers, they exude delicious elegance.
When they open fully, though, their secret life as wildflowers is divulged, and they have a kind of carefree rough-and-tumble to them that I love.
The weeks of anticipation are worth the few days of pleasure—Lady Janes are beautiful for every minute until they pass their prime.
The 'Persian Pearls' (T. humilis) only last for four or five days and then efface themselves quickly, leaves and all. If none of their blooming days falls on a weekend, I don't get to see them open in the sunshine, but never mind. Just knowing that they can outshine stained glass and that I might see them doing so makes up for a disappointing year now and then. You live them up when you can.
But now we come to the Tulipa tardas. I had such high hopes for these small flowers (they only get two to four inches high). The buds were promising, with a complex array of glowing colors.
But then the flowers turned out to be a bit of a mess.
Granted, they are luminous in the sun, and anyone lying flat on the concrete patio can certainly enjoy that effect to the full.
When they open—at high noon, for half an hour or so— (what more do they want than a full morning of high desert sunshine?), they're mighty cheerful, as you can tell if you're standing directly over them and looking straight down.
From the Adirondack chair on the patio, though, you mostly just see mess. I feel a bit disillusioned. Spring flowers are not supposed to leave you with a feeling of...well, for lack of a better word, meh.
I don't usually adopt the latest words of the moment. Not out of principle or anything; they're just ephemeral enough that by the time I figure out what they mean they've begun to fade from popularity anyway. But a flash (in the pan) of insight today suggested that "meh" was just made for unimpressive tulips. Both of them are here and then gone, without anyone getting too worked up either way. I can handle that tepid, evanescent nothingness in a word—not all words can have the longevity of "ephemeral," after all.
But I don't see the point of it in a tulip.
* The long stems of Darwin and other hybrid tulips often break in the spring winds around here, so regional growers recommend wildflower or species tulips instead. (For what it's worth.)