Saturday, April 17, 2010

`Flowers That Fly and All But Sing'

With my brother-in-law and his family we’ve rented a 10-by-30-foot plot in the community garden, deep in suburbia near a protected marsh and hiking trail. Gardeners are an earnest race, dedicated to sustainability and Swiss chard. They like building fences, posting signs – “Yard Waste!” – and proselytizing for compost. They wear funny hats and oversized boots. We have no philosophy of gardening, though I find it mindlessly satisfying, and our desires are modest -- a few vegetables, time in the sun, marigolds.

Someone had already tilled the plot and my sister-in-law had planted broccoli, cauliflower and red onions. We arrived with the clatter of shovels and rakes, in time to see a lone cabbage white flit across the cabbage-free plot. The boys pulled stones and weeds, and carried water from the spigot in buckets, I planted carrot and radish seeds and my wife took care of the lettuce, tomatoes and marigolds. I had worked all day and wanted to leave, postponing the green beans until the weekend, when a blue butterfly too small and flighty for me to identify followed the route of the cabbage white. It felt like a blessing and reminded me of Pnin’s “blue snow” and its retroactive echo in Frost’s “Blue-Butterfly Day”:

“It is blue-butterfly day here in spring,
And with these sky-flakes down in flurry on flurry
There is more unmixed color on the wing
Than flowers will show for days unless they hurry.

“But these are flowers that fly and all but sing:
And now from having ridden out desire
They lie closed over in the wind and cling
Where wheels have freshly sliced the April mire.”

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