Tuesday, June 14, 2016


A friend of many years told me of her sorrow and frustration at the persistence of violence and hatred. Each new rampage makes the news for a while, she mourned, but nothing changes. We go about our lives as if nothing ever will. I had no words of comfort for her, or for myself.

Later, I posted a photo of a blood lily flowering in my garden. Scadoxus multiflorus is a tropical African native. It blooms once a year near Midsummer. Each fragile flower resembles an electric filament, flaming so brightly in sunlight that the camera cannot capture true colors. Yellowing bracts begin to curl downward even as the blossom opens. It’s tender in this area, so I pot it when it goes dormant. Such ephemeral loveliness is little to set against reckless destruction.

Each spring I hunt for Jack-in-the-pulpits and Mayapples, trying to capture the perfect shot. If I miss their flowering by a few days, I have to wait another year to try again. As their habitat is given over to development, they grow scarce. Over the winter I try to monitor their sleeping places for invasive species that might crowd them out. Life and beauty are threatened even in the natural world, it seems.

Some of my cousins make regular Memorial Day pilgrimages to the family grave sites, laying silk flowers before headstones. I like to add a few living potted flowers to the display. They must be removed after a few days, and so far I haven’t been able to make them look like much in a photograph. I planted grape hyacinths for my parents and grandparents. They bloom too early to impress late May visitors, but they colonize and continue to flower for years. The family tradition that began with Decoration Day is in its fourth or fifth generation now. Our descendants may or may not continue the ritual. Either way, the grape hyacinths will slip their heads up through the grass every year. 

United Plant Savers maintains a list of at-risk and to-watch plant species. I’ve planted some of the shade-loving ones in my woods. A few of them struggle. Black cohosh, bloodroot, trillium and echinacea flourish. This is what I nurture to stand against all hatred and bereavement: beauty that flowers and falls and rises again. It may be fragile, but it is all that we are.