Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Pumpkin Pie in the Heat of July?

{{ My first garden essay, concatenated with a later one. }}

Pumpkin Pie in the Heat of July?

     I liked it at first.
     A vine had appeared with large blue flowers on a pole in a neighbor's yard. I didn't remember seeing it on my jogs and decided that it must have just been planted. A month later, the vine and flowers were still there, exactly as they had appeared the first day. Come fall and then winter, those large flowers on the vine were still shining as gloriously as the day they were ejected from some Chinese factory.
      Is that homeowner's approach better than planting the vine, waiting for the flowers and then cutting it down when it turns brown in November? I tried to think why, and then remembered how much the tiny crocus' are enjoyed in the brown dirt, snow patches, and dead leaves of late winter. It was so long since I had seen any flowers and nothing else was around for competition.

      Why do I like the yellow and blue Warblers of spring more than the birds that visit my feeder? The warblers only pass through during a brief window in May whereas the Chickadees, Cardinals and Blue Jays are always here.
     The dominance of azaleas in May, a mass of color in the landscape, is like no other display and I'd rather be in my backyard then than anywhere else. A wall of soft, bright color here. A blaze of garish lights there. And of course they fade, but while our time with them is short, it is special.
     We don't eat pumpkin pie and drink eggnog in July. The few times that we enjoy them are memorable.
      Christmas lights look great in the winter evenings, but a neighbor keeps a small evergreen lit with them all year, and it just becomes part of the woodwork.
     The flower colors of spring, the dark green dominance of summer and the leaves of fall are pleasures that haven't been seen in a year and we always look forward to the show. 
      I hate winter: cold, windy, icy, dark. But I grudgingly admit, without that contrast the spring wouldn't look, feel, and smell as great. So I'll raise a cup of hot chocolate to the collapsing thermometer, wait for the first crocuses and give winter its due.
- - - - - - - - -

     A man crossed the street and approached me as I was puttering around in the front yard. He was dressed as the Grim Reaper, without a scythe, but still looked frightening. His face resembled mine, but that was his problem.
     “Hi. I'm Contrary Wise. I've read some of your essays and they make me laugh.”
     “I'm glad you like my jokes!”
     “No, your opinions are so dumb they make me laugh. You wrote the essay 'Pumpkin Pie In The Heat of July?', right?”
     “Yes, Contrary.”
     “You can call me Wise,” he interrupted. “Anyway, you realize that it's all garbage, right?”
     “Umm … .”
     “The whole idea is wrong. You were making fun of plastic flowers because you liked the changes that the seasons gave you with real flowers.”
     “Well, yeah. It's nice to see stuff you haven't seen for a year.”
     “Why don't you just get plastic flowers?”
     “After a few weeks just pull out the plastic flowers you have and stick in some different ones.”
     “I don't know. I never thought of that. But it's nice to see them grow up out of the ground.”
     “But you wouldn't have to wait. You could see the flowers right away.”
Silk and Plastic flowers at Michaels. Low maintenance.
     “Yes, but it's nice to see them coming up.”
     “If they didn't have flowers would you still plant azaleas?”
     “Crocuses? Daffodils? Tulips?”
     “So seeing them come up out of the dirt like undead zombies isn't the point. The flowers are. And with plastic ones you could have them right away.”
     “Well,” I leaned on my shovel, “the anticipation is nice.”
     He stared at me.
     “OK, that's over-rated,” I acknowledged. “Flowers have fragrance!” I was grasping at straws.
     He continued to stare at me.
     “Maybe azaleas don't,” I noted, “and hosta flowers don't, and heuchera flowers don't, and hellebore flowers don't ...” I tried to think of some that did. “Actually, if you kneel down in the mud you can smell Snowdrops and Crocuses. Snowdrops are a little spicy and Crocuses are a little sweet.”
     “Sounds like a smelling point,” he sneered. “And if you're a few more inches away?”
     “Then you have the anticipation of the scent! What do you have with plastic flowers?”
     “Spray-on perfume.”
     “Spray-on … that's stupid. Why would you do that?”
     “Beats kneeling in the mud with your nose 6 inches off the ground.”
     “But many plastic flowers have weird, unnatural colors.”
     “Let's hear it for variety!”
     “I can tell that you've never enjoyed the euphoria typified by a garden in spring.”
     “'euphoria typified'? Did you learn those words in essay-writing class?”
     I just glared at him.
     Then I countered, “You do meet some great people in garden clubs!”
     “Point taken. You're still 10 points behind.”
     “You're ignoring all the other benefits of gardening. It's great exercise, involving lifting, pulling and stretching.”
     “All available with a home gym. And no cold hands or muddy knees. Or mosquitoes.”
     “When you are working in the garden you forget all your other problems. You're just 'in the zone'. Very much like meditation.”
     “You could do real meditation on your living room rug. Still no cold hands, muddy knees or mosquitoes.”
     I thought some more. “Well, I am proud that I built something. I built a garden.”
     “Take a class in woodworking and build an end table.”
     “You know, you're deflecting the issue. Exercise, meditation and woodworking are all fine things. But if you're gardening you get the best of them all, simultaneously.”
     “You're deflecting the issue! You skipped away from plastic flowers, the soul of a 21st century garden. Buy them with your credit card and that's plastic growing plastic!”
     I wasn't getting anywhere with this guy who was thinking as fast as I was. How could I explain the satisfaction of hard work resulting in a fine looking garden? How could I explain any emotion?
     Contrary gave a satisfied, humorless grin. His hard work had given him the satisfaction of a debate win. I couldn't think of a smooth, devastating rejoinder. Maybe violence is the answer. Sometimes.
     He had me stumped. Maybe tomorrow I'll go by the variety store and look at some plastic flowers. Not to buy, of course. Just to look … .