Wednesday, June 30, 2010

6.30 Consider the Lilies

Cooler this morning, with radiant sunshine. Clear skies this high-sun time of year mean it will feel hot again this afternoon. Summer is about to set in for good, if it hasn’t done so already. Everything, as they said in the farmers market, came in two weeks sooner this year. So also with flowering plants. The native day lilies, which I used to date by experience to July 4th have been blooming for two weeks. They will be almost done by July 4th this year.
And with the sun at its height, I think – but of course in actuality the sun has already passed its height. The sun is no longer peaking; it’s already peaked. If you live in a cool northern “temperate” climate, you look forward the to the sun’s climb in the sky, enjoy the late evenings, celebrate the longest day of the year. It’s a big difference from the early dark of the bleak midwinter. But now the longest day has already passed. So am I looking forward to summer, or already saying goodbye to it?
Everything coming is also going.
The blooming of the day lilies is an annual garden peak. They light up their stems like candle flames in the green night of the afternoon shadows. The ornamental lilies, fewer in number but even more spectacularly tinted, are also showing their colors. We have fewer of them; I can probably count the buds. We could count the days until they’re all gone; but who would want to? Is this the best time of year? Is this the peak?
But in fact we have longed for the best of times. Isn’t it only natural to look forward to the good things you know will come in time? Vacation. An annual gathering. A visit. The opening of the floral show you’ve been preparing for months, maybe years.
The ornamental lilies are perhaps the best example of high ratio of color to foliage, the basic definition of bang for the buck. Nobody keeps them around for the foliage. It’s all riding on the bloom – at last, they’re here! Then soon enough they’re gone, and you’d better have something else to look at. Other plants, gladiolas, all the bulbs, really, are in the same class. Big show, then go. To a lesser extent, the same is true for all the flowering perennials.
They have their moment in the sun.
This weekend, the July 4th holiday, marks the traditional beginning of the summer vacation season, as we are reminded every year. But we’ve had our summer vacation here already, with the kids’ visits in June. Emotionally speaking, the long-awaited summer peak which is just beginning for others has already happened for us.
This brings me back to the matter of peaking. As always, the garden illustrates the point. Things build to a peak, and then decline. That’s nature for you. Are we in nature? Where else would we be?
The garden reminds us that time passes. And by the peculiar laws of time (which is to say existence), that which we draw to us – in our heart, spirit, or mind – will also draw away.
As we pull our summers – our vacations, our good times – toward us, we pull them past us as well.
We know time passes, just as animals do, by the clock of the year – the sun in the sky, the seasons, the trees, the garden.
We know our sun has its ups and downs. It’s already peaked this year. We watch plants of all sorts and conditions grow to their height. Because plants keep going until they reach their goal, seed production, we get to eat.
In the performance of human achievements, peaks are reckoned good things. But by definition, like the sun once you “peak,” you begin to go down. Peaks are slippery and almost inevitably partake of disappointment.
So when does a garden peak? In its profusion of spring wildflowers, in June’s rhododendrons and roses, the lilies of the midsummer fields (which this year are rushing the season), in the dense late summer landscapes? It’s a meretricious question, and peace of mind is abetted by leaving it alone. We wouldn’t want to know the answer, even if we could have it, any more than we want to know where we stand in our own circle of life.
Just like the lilies, we are disappearing all the time. The garden is the beautiful image of our evanescence.