In the Merry Morning of May
It’s the lilacs more than anything. Most years the blooms have faded by May Day, but this year they are still going strong. The breeze is coming from the west and it carries the perfume all through the yard. I am put in mind of the lilacs that ringed the back yard of my grandmother’s farm. Those were big, billowy midwestern lilacs. And “in the spring of the year”, as grandma used to say, they bloomed abundantly as if extravagance would be the best rebuke to the recently departed cold. As a child, I couldn’t imagine a spring without them, and today the scented air takes me back to those sunny times. Of course there are other clues and markers as well. The bush beans have sprouted, the callas have long been in bloom and the red runners are climbing. But mostly, I think it’s the lilacs.
I’m putting in a run of fence along the patch that follows the shop wall. It is my hope to keep the chickens out of the bed of Romano beans that are just now making their first muscular push through the surface of the soil. We have snapdragons standing tall in this bed too, and a nice young sage just now showing its first purple blooms. We have to figure out what else to put in there. It should be flowers because we want to have something soft and pretty growing around the stone. The stone is a flat casting with bright bits of mosaic glass on the face. It marks the spot where we recently laid the black cat to rest. It makes a counterpoint to all the life bursting out around it.
Over in the side yard, the bees sift through a thick stand of fava beans. I put these in a little early last fall. Usually they go in right around the winter Solstice and bear on the summer Solstice. I’ve always enjoyed the equipoise of that. But this year, it's only May Day and I’ve got beans. Beans and a forest of fava. I find myself wondering if maybe I’ve upset some larger cycle by jumping the gun on planting these, but on the other hand, the ones in the north side bed went in later and should arrive on schedule. Besides, nature paints with a big enough brush that a little color can spill over the lines.
The raised beds are on the North side. Things are a little out of hand here. The arugula re-seeded itself and has really taken over. Potluck salad? We’ll bring the arugula. Here, have a bunch to take home. It’s great on pizza. Plenty more where that came from. This is the land of maybe. The ficus shows promise. Maybe the figs won’t be so dry this year. Maybe the chard will actually like it in the shade of the willow. Maybe those new blueberry shrubs will take. Maybe the guava will finally start bearing. God knows, it’s leafing out enough. There, in the mulch at the base of the bush was the black cat’s favorite spot for napping. How he must miss it now.
I look over at the impatiens and I’m struck by the stories that things can carry. I remember someone giving me a stalk of it, and I remember that I stuck it in the ground and now it’s an old and respected part of the garden. But I don’t remember what happened to that someone. And who was it planted this plum? It is my arch nemesis. I want it to be a nice shade tree; it wants to be a thicket. Every winter I make my point, loppers in hand. Every spring it delivers its rebuttal with an effulgence of blossoms and suckers galore. Years ago, someone must have planted it right there with a grand design in mind. But why right in the middle of the yard?
The mysteries abound. One hive of bees seems to prefer installing its comb upside down this year. The Italian parsley has taken over the pot of Genovese basil in some obscure internecine rivalry. And why are there potatoes growing in the strawberry bed? I am resigned to not knowing. On some level, it’s nature’s show and I am only a spectator and occasional participant: I sing along when invited and pitch in when called up from the audience.
But it’s a grand and glorious show and the only one I know. I glance back at the mosaic stone and think of the black cat resting there. I don’t know what cats can imagine, but I don’t think he could ever have imagined being in a world that wasn’t just like the one that I’m feeling today. For that matter, neither can I.
- David Parr, Artistic Director