Sunday, March 31, 2013


or L'Chaim

An old Taj Mahal song goes, "Remember the feeling as a child, when you woke up and morning smiled?"  I've always loved the song for that line, because I do remember feeling that way as a little girl—running to the window first thing in the morning and looking out, happy that it would be a good day just because the sky was blue. 

Mornings still smile fairly often, but I find that attitude and choice matter more these days than accidents of weather.  Not that blue skies hurt.  No, indeed.  The weather has been glorious lately, and morning, afternoon, and evening have been smiling their little hearts out.  When spring arrives in that spectacular way I always dig out my recording of Ella Fitzgerald singing "Blue Skies"—her incredible joy just goes with the joy of springtime.  Once she's done with the "business" of the first run-through and lets the words fall away, that song is one pure ray of shining light—a toast to life and its extravagant plenty.

Tulipa praestans, mid-March

I remember being stunned once by a critic of Fitzgerald's work; he said her singing lacked passion, because she avoided "deeper," more painful song subjects.  I couldn't believe it.  Since when is joy not a passion?  How can you listen to Fitzgerald and not be swept away with her in the thrill of mastery, of mind and voice and breath working to their utmost, the relish of give-and-take and getting lost in the flow of music, the exuberance of a perfect moment and the knowledge that you helped to create it, the equally awesome knowledge that you did not create it alone, the sheer gusto for that glorious groundswell of life, of NOW—  Good heavens.  Since when is that not passion?

'He Shi Ko' perennial bunching onion (Allium fistulosum)

I was thinking about that while wandering around the garden a couple of weeks ago.  Now, on the last day of March, joy and exuberance can be had for a song, with the muscari and tulips and scilla splashing color into all the corners of the garden, and the biggest sand cherry exploding into blossom while troupes of ipheion dance at its feet.  The cherry's fragrance fills the air, and the bees fly giddily from one of its thousands of flowers to the next.  Oh, yes.  It's hard not to find joy outside right now.

A couple of weeks ago, though, none of that energy had come out into the open yet.

Western sand cherry (Prunus besseyi), two weeks ago

It was still building in hidden places, a groundswell of growth happening behind closed doors.  But even then, when the world was still mostly a brown, dull place, the sheer diversity of Life could astonish:  the power of it, the extravagant, over-the-top, vibrant super-abundance of it.  What amazing variety is to be found as growth begins—the eggs of the sand cherry buds sitting in their cups; the new spring onion leaves contorting to break free of their protective sheaths; the nesting, armored scales of Carolina jessamine, gradually releasing the flower within; the eyes of the angelita daisies peeping through fringed lashes.

Angelita daisy (Tetraneuris/Hymenoxys acaulis)
And that's barely a beginning.  We haven't even gotten to the desert olive's knobbly bumps, or the fuzzy catkins blowing from aspen branches, or the boxwood flowers pretending to be leaves right up until the last minute, or the honey locust leaflets unclasping like hands—Well.  I could go on, but I won't.  You have your own spring (or autumn, depending) to wax rhapsodic about.  And if you don't now (I'm looking at you, northerners), have hope.  The day is coming very, very soon.

The day when that groundswell of energy spills out into action, taking you with it—if you let it.  The day when a moment of wonder grabs you and dances you around—if you consent.  The day when you open your eyes to the extravagant plenty on your doorstep and smile back at the morning.

Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens)

The day when you walk outside, lift your hands like a glass to the clear blue sky, and let mind and body shout, "L'chaim!"

Thursday, March 7, 2013


or The Graceful Art

Pretending to be a ribbon isn't all that easy.  I found that out when I was seven or eight and have never tried it again.

Crocus ancyrensis 'Golden Bunch'

I'd been reading a book, of course.  It may have been Caddie Woodlawn, or something like that—a tale of pioneer communities in the 19th century and the odd smatterings of Civilized Behavior that followed them from non-pioneering places.  One "civilized" thing the girls did was to practice fainting gracefully.*  They were supposed to pretend to be ribbons falling, and then in theory a graceful swoon was theirs for the asking.  I wasn't all that interested in swooning, but what with my parents refusing to buy me a horse or let me start a fire in the schoolhouse (only so I could help put it out, of course!), it was one of the more manageable feats in the book to try for myself.  Pretending to be a ribbon, though—I don't know.  Even on the shag carpeting that graced our home at the time, I mostly ended up feeling bruised and kind of stupid.  I guess you're either a swooner or you're not, and 20th-century girls are just mostly not.

Crocuses are like that, too.

Some of them are as sturdy as all get-out.  The 'Cream Beauty' Crocus chrysanthus that started blooming the first of February have just now faded away completely, a month later.  They withstood snow and wind and the neighbors' cats and looked beautiful for weeks without making a grand fuss about it.

The 'Golden Bunch' Crocus ancyrensis, on the other hand, for all their bold, vivacious coloring, are a lot more delicate.  They balked at blooming through a colder than average February; when they did bloom, they only opened their petals part way.  Dropping a camera on them (ahem) absolutely cr-r-r-rushed their spirits.  Their wounded looks chided me clear across the garden.  Compared to the other crocuses, the 'Golden Bunch' are less likely to come back from one year to the next, quicker to fade away once they bloom, and a lot more likely to


But don't they do it gracefully?

* Because that's a useful skill for farm women carving out homesteads on the open prairie.

I was doing a search on "how to swoon gracefully," as one does, and came across an actual set of swooning lessons.  As always, be sure to consult with your doctor before starting this or any new exercise program.