Saturday, May 8, 2010


Not many of us wake up to discover that our bodies have undergone a most unusual transformation while we slept, such as from human to insect. But such is imagination, and such is metaphor.

The other morning I awoke to an unexpected, dramatic, and decidedly non-metaphoric metamorphosis: the June Plantain hosta, the leaves of which previously had bright chartreuse centers framed by vibrant, deep lime green borders, suddenly appeared as pale yellow-green centers framed by gray-blue edging. I stood mesmerized by unexpected shades of blue, for the borders perfectly harmonized with the blue of "Blue Angel" hosta, and together, this team of venerable hostas accentuated a particular bluish hue in the Obisidian heuchera that is otherwise, to my eyes, not visible.
But these may be June Plantain’s true colors—and indeed they are, as this particular hosta is known for its pigmentary variation throughout the season. The vivacity of its lime and chartreuse proved the flaunting of youthful spring revelry; with adolescence nearly over, the plant settles into a more mature display of aesthetic restraint. Time in the botanical world is at once compressed and accelerated.

We humans, however, live more measured lives, and we tend to mark time not by colorful refashioning (at least not of the sort about which I’ve been writing) but by wrinkles and increments of ten. Adages like “fifty is the new forty” and “forty is the new thirty” appear in the lexicon of my peers (and slight elders) with increasing frequency; these seem but trifling grasps at passing youth, futile attempts to conceal a fear of reaching another milestone birthday and coming ever closer to the inevitable moment when we shall pass from this earthly plane.

As an educator, I am exposed each day to a curious, sometimes humorous, sometimes painful mix of the tempestuousness of youth and the moderation of age, and to developing selves prepossessed of the need to achieve a balance between the two. And this helps keep me young in a way that disabuses me of resorting to euphemisms and cliché—though fret I continue to do.

These selves require a patience that I often do not think I possess, but in the end learn that I do (if only because my sympathies overwhelm my rational yearnings for discipline and punish, order and responsibility). Like my plants, developing selves require a forbearance and attunement to their particular needs; helping them negotiate those needs with others’ in a preexisting context is part of the metamorphosis from child to adult. And so it is with plants. 

Gardening offers the world to me in microcosm—but not in a controlled laboratory sense, since my plants metamorphose and protest, flourish and proliferate, seemingly without regard to me though perhaps always in reference to something I have or have not done. Instead, my gardens offer me the certitude of my own Being, existing as it does within a context broader and deeper than my individual self. And thus my gardens come to teach me how to allow others to be selves in ways that ensure their continual metamorphosis.

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