My daughter returns from a hectic work week with a mason jar of flowers from a friend. Our cat immediately gnaws on a zinnia leaf, and so my daughter sets the jar of flowers on our table on the back porch.
A week later, the flowers are still vibrant — giant orange zinnias and sunflowers and maroon amaranth that drapes over the jar’s edge. This, despite the fluctuations of cold and heat for days.
The other name for amaranth is Love Lies Bleeding.
On this Saturday morning, my daughters already at work and soccer, I drink coffee and catch up with email. Next year, I imagine, maybe I’ll plant my entire garden in flowers, vegetables be damned. I won’t; I know that. But I sowed an enormous variety of Love Lies Bleeding in along my brassica this year. We’re devouring all of that.
My daughter’s friend spends the afternoon on our back porch. When I come home from work, the girls are still chatting and doing crafts. The sunlight dapples through the box elders. Around us, tomatoes ripen.
We are ensconced in porch life, our half-covered deck redolent with drying garlic, the nasturtiums dangling their delicate, impossibly beautiful blossoms from hanging baskets. In the mornings, we read Henry IV, Part One aloud with my parents in Santa Fe, my sister and nephews in Virginia, circling back to Falstaff’s words — “A plague of sighing and grief! It blows a man up like a bladder.” Beside me, my 15-year-old rubs a finger over the scraps on her knees from blackberry brambles.
August is the sunshine month in Vermont, the season of wild berries, of warm lakes, of flowers in excess, of lying on the grass as the stars come out, of a great long pause before autumn sets in and winter grinds her teeth.
Our deck, our house, and garden might as well be the whole world, with the turkey vultures silently circling overhead, the wood thrush singing sweetly in the ravine. Before dinner, I toss a withering bouquet of giant zinnias in the compost and cut a fresh handful for our dinner table. August is our rainbow month. I know my daughter’s desire for school, for soccer, for this future none of us seem able to imagine — but long may August last, please.
The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last for ever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year – the days when summer is changing into autumn – the crickets spread the rumour of sadness and change.
This morning, the mist lies in the valley. Through the open windows, a coolness steals in with the dawn. For this summer, my daughter informs me, the greatest heat has passed.
July gave us thirty-one gorgeous, sun-drenched beautiful days. Now, on the first of August, I’m wearing jeans near my open window, as my daughters’ cat keeps a hungry eye on a darting goldfinch.
My teenager aches for September and school; I think, slow this down. School may not open its doors this September, maybe not in October, maybe not at all this year. In our little Vermont oasis, that seems theoretical at times. On this first of August, I think again of Hayden Carruth’s poetry.
The world is a complex fatigue.
Indeed. For this day, green bean picking, handfuls of zinnias, the cosmos as tall as my shoulders, the nasturtiums nestled in the tomatoes. For this day, flowers.
In the evenings, my daughter lifts the car keys from the hook on the wall, and we drive.
In the passenger seat, I laugh a little, and she looks at me from the edges of her eyes. What?
I haven’t accepted, yet, this switch from driver to passenger seat, and she says seriously, I got this, before smiling with utter pleasure. She no longer asks where we should go; she’s at the wheel.
In the midst of so much other upheaval, from global to personal — my teen has hit the summer of growing up. If I had my license, I’d drive across the country, she says. I have two more months before school starts.
A light rain falls. Neither of us know if school will start, or what her last few years of high school will look like. I’ve driven across country numerous times, but what will her trek look like?
My thirsty garden drinks up the rain. At our house, an enormous mock orange bush reaches our second-floor bedroom windows. For weeks now, I’ve wondered if this bush will bloom this year — here it is, madly blossoming, sprinkling the grass with its fallen white petals.
In these last few days, in my corner of Vermont, we’ve experienced snow, raw cold, heavy rain this morning — and now rushing radiant sunlight.
Suddenly, as if reluctant to waste a moment, little blossoms around our house have opened — some I planted, the crocuses and grape hyacinth — but all through the flowerbeds and behind the compost are tiny blue flowers — Scilla siberica.
When I was a novice gardener, I only planted vegetables, with some crazy notion that my labor should go solely towards what ends up on the dinner table.
This afternoon I see the pollinators are already busily working on these beautiful petals. Balance, balance.
If ‘dead’ matter has reared up this curious landscape of fiddling crickets, song sparrows, and wondering men, it must be plain even to the most devoted materialists that the matter of which he speaks contains amazing, if not dreadful, powers, and may not impossibly be, as Thomas Hardy has suggested, ‘but one mask of many worn by the Great Face behind.’