Harvesting narcissus and daffodils was my last effort of the night and the first at dawn the next day.
I had arrived late at the little cottage on a bay beyond the borders of the woods, past the state line, about 200 miles south of here. While the day had slipped by under the whirling tires of cars threading their way through New Hampshire, Massachusetts and on to New York, I steered toward retreat, in the modern world an essential second shelter.
The flowers greeted me first. Planted over decades in the back yard, they re-enacted their silent reaching and stretching toward the sun. Color and delicate form was the nature of things for them, and I had forgotten over the long winter how uplifting they could be.
When I reached the house, nothing much other than destination was on my mind, until I began making my way down into the wetlands where the cottage sits, a gnome among giants — a one-bedroom dwelling amid much larger older homes and the occasional mega-mansion. The yard was already overgrown, the lawn unkempt and bursting from the ground in tufts — spots the retriever had fertilized over our months of weekend visits.
Weeds had gotten their usual stubborn head start and were already making their move toward total takeover, dandelions poking up, ground cover that no one other than wind and insects had ever planted. But standing tall and bright among them, more than a hundred daffodils, narcissus and early tulips were in bloom.
Many I had planted 25 years ago, and in their devotion they have confidently and reliably returned, spring after spring, like jack-in-the-box surprises, known and predictable, but always a startling marvel.
On the walk from the road, I had been toting a giant compactor-thickness garbage bag full of wet laundry. I had to circle the house to the bulkhead so I could clamber downstairs to the cellar to reach the Whirlpool, but suddenly, surrounded by bobbing tow-headed blossoms, I lost all interest in household chores.
I stopped, swung the black bag from my shoulder like a wandering minstrel resting on a long journey, half-leaned, half-sat on the edge of the stone porch steps, and stared with delight at the little world of the yard and the wetlands-gone-to-thicket farther off.
Some of the blooms were the ordinary, familiar fluted cups, some the color of full sun, a handful with a hue of early magnolias, others fairly exploding with clusters of petals. The tulips stood erect, holding aloft only the suggestion of what they might become if the cottontails left them alone and refrained from beheadings. I made a mental note to get to them first and do my own violence, lopping them off low on their stems and forcing them, along with a few switches of forsythia, indoors.
But for a moment, the tulips remained erect and undisturbed, tight-lipped as monks having taken a vow of silence. Within days they would open, like chalices in their communion with the rest of yard, their blooming timed like a liturgy, a celebration of hope in the cycle of seasons repeating itself.
But that would come later. This moment, and we in it, was right now and everlasting in itself.
In a lush, unmanicured garden, tended lightly by nature’s hand, everyone goes pagan, if only in the mind. I could have laid down in the meadowlike, overgrown grass and gone to sleep as though the landscape were the shores of Avalon — or even Eden — if the metaphor of wonder went that way in my dreams.
It didn’t matter a whit to me that the babbling whisper at the edge of the yard was a forgotten creek once connected to a working cranberry bog, now long gone and in a state beyond disrepair. I didn’t care that the phragmites were stronger and more intrusive even than I am in the web of life in the tidal marsh — or that someone would have to take a machete to them in June to keep things in line.
Right now, it was the cusp of May, and the sky and setting sun were working the heavens into the colors of a thing of the deep, beneath the waters a wave away — a pink like the flush of dawn or the belly of salmon, a steely gray like the dusky backs of bass.
For an instant, I closed my eyes and the world went black, and though I felt the brush of the wind on my face and fingering through my hair, I was transported elsewhere and imagined this must be what ending is — the cessation of color; the forlorn silence of a sky without osprey or egret, blackbird or cardinal; a marsh without muskrats toiling or clams with their long siphons seeking air; the waters off the coast stripped of humpback whales and horsehead seals.
But I set all that premeditated mourning aside, sensing the fragrance of linden on the air and, behind it, the brine of the salt-sea gusts from the bay. Everything has its season, I remembered. This one is ours.
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