Ungodly Blooms

A benefit to waking early―not farmer early, but night owl who has to pee early, which this morning meant 7:45―is getting to see the Easter lily cactus blooms, a lovely surprise especially since it’s mid-September. The weather is turning towards cool―again not Vermont cool, just late summer mid elevation desert cool, so low 80s―and I’ve decided to drink my morning coffee in the front court garden. I forgot to put on my glasses before walking outside and am too sleepy to fetch them, so I don’t expect to notice anything. I sit down and am about to settle into the quiet blur of waking my brain when I see the pink blooms. I knew they were coming since the buds emerge slowly over a matter of days, but I still gasped at first sight.

The Easter lily cactus is so called for its inclination to bloom at Easter time. I think mine is a pagan. It sends out flowers with complete disregard for the Christian holy calendar. It does have a habit of putting out three blooms at a time, a nod to the Catholic Trinity perhaps or just good design sense, following the rule of threes (though never fives for this particular plant). I bought it during a macro photography class I took in 2009, right around Easter. The class met to shoot pictures at a plant nursery and I found this cactus covered with flowers and spent the rest of the morning stuffing my macro lens into the blooms. The least I could do was take it home afterwards. Nurseries coddle plants so they look their best.  I brought the cactus home and it somehow knew rules in this new garden were loose. One year it put out tiny ragged flowers, each petal serrated like soft pink knives. This year, I think in response to all the rain we’ve had this summer, it’s opened up multiple times, almost aligned to summer solstice and fall equinox. Had it been more on top of it, it’d be downright Wiccan.

I credit exuberant blooms to either attentive gardening or imminent death. Not a coddler by nature, I’m concerned for the cactus. All these flowers might be the plant’s swan song, especially since it is also pushing out pups, small versions of itself that appear tenuously attached to the larger arms and could easily brush off and tangle in the fur of a hairy beast and then drop off elsewhere to make a life of their own. The only hairy beasts in my garden are the stray cats that live in the sewer drain at the end of the street. They frequent my front yard, lounging in the grass like miniature lions on the savanna, and leave sad piles of bird feathers on the lawn. They also spray smelly cat musk by my front door and drink from the courtyard fountain. Ours is a relationship of wary tolerance and while they lay about like they own the place I doubt one will ever leap up onto the wall where I keep the Easter lily cactus and give the plant one of those friendly side rubs cats use to get people to pet them.

So the cactus may be singing to no one. Except me and my camera. Click click, RIP. My eulogy for it might go like this: I remember your surprising flowers more than your otherwise quiet patience all the days you waited for just the right signals to bloom. I apologize for my narrow attention, but in this regard I’m not much different from a bee.

The Trinity of Blooms and a Bee by me


Squirrel Heart Beats

Have you ever wondered how your life might have turned out if you had done one thing differently? Of course you have. You’re human after all and we tend to ponder what ifs. My what ifs are rarely huge. Like this morning while driving my daughter to school I couldn’t help but notice the intricate patterns of mesquite tree shadows on the gymnasium walls as I pulled into the school parking lot. What if, I wondered, while turning onto the road and heading back home, what if I had gotten glasses as a kid instead of waiting until my first year in college? What more would I have noticed? What would that have done to shape my view of the world? Then my favorite George Eliot line from Middlemarch came to mind:

“If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.”

As a young adult I spent a lot of time being pissed off at the things I missed during my tween and teen years― regular eye exams, parents in town, dinner. Now I’m not so sure. For instance, what if I had worn glasses and could at twelve see every leaf on every tree with discrete clarity? Even now my stimulus filters are scant, but as a kid they were more inadequate at sifting through sensory inputs. If I had worn glasses all the extra visual data might have made my head explode.

I remember the day I picked up my first pair of glasses, how it felt to ride my bike along the tree-lined streets, every leaf visible, each break in the canopy a sharp shaft of light. It was like I had spent my life reading Joyce’s Finnegans Wake and was now handed Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. The thick clarity of the world around me distracted me so much I could barely keep pedaling. I had to stop many times between the optometrist’s office and my apartment just to study the trees.

So perhaps it was for the best that I lived my entire adolescence in a blur. Those years have so many more squirrel heart beats than any other time in one’s life, the roar might have been my undoing.

My favorite image of the many I’ve taken of my front garden courtyard, the only as seen in my son’s eye. He also wears glasses.