Who would have thought it possible that a tiny little flower could preoccupy a person so completely that there simply wasn’t room for any other thought?
~ Sophie Scholl
I think we are all in need of a little floral therapy.
My mother, who hates thunder storms,
Holds up each summer day and shakes
It out suspiciously, lest swarms
Of grape-dark clouds are lurking there;
But when the August weather breaks
And rains begin, and brittle frost
Sharpens the bird-abandoned air,
Her worried summer look is lost,
And I her son, though summer-born
And summer-loving, none the less
Am easier when the leaves are gone
Too often summer days appear
Emblems of perfect happiness
I can’t confront: I must await
A time less bold, less rich, less clear;
An autumn more appropriate.
~Philip Larkin from “Mother, Summer, I”
Summer is simply too much excess,
from endless hours of daylight,
to rising temperatures,
clouds of dust,
to fruitfulness and abundant blooms.
It overwhelms and exhausts
while filling a void left empty
after endless cold bare dark days
that will all too soon
She lingered in that charming little garden to say hello to the gnomes, such a glorious infestation!
How few wizards realize just how much we can learn from the wise little gnomes-or, to give them their correct names, the Gernumbli gardensi.
‘Ours do know a lot of excellent swear words,’ said Ron…
J.K. Rowling in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
It is hard to say exactly when the first one moved in. This farm was distinctly gnome-less when we bought it, largely due to twenty-seven hungry barn cats residing here at the time, in various stages of pregnancy, growth, development and aging. It took awhile for the feline numbers to whittle down to an equilibrium that matched the rodent population. In the mean time, our horse numbers increased from three to seven to over fifteen with a resultant exponential increase in barn chores. One spring over a decade ago, I was surprised to walk in the barn one morning to find numerous complex knots tied in the Haflingers’ manes. Puzzling as I took precious time to undo them, literally adding hours to my chores, I knew I needed to find the cause or culprit.
It took some research to determine the probable origin of these tight tangles. Based on everything I read, they appeared to be the work of Gernumbli faenilesi, a usually transient species of gnome preferring to live in barns and haylofts in close proximity to heavy maned ponies. In this case, as the tangles persisted for months, they clearly had moved in, lock, stock and barrel. The complicated knots were their signature pride and joy, their artistic way of showing their devotion to a happy farm.
All well and good, but the extra work was killing my fingers and thinning my horses’ hair. I plotted ways to get them to cease and desist.
I set live traps of cheese and peanut butter cracker sandwiches, hoping to lure them into cages for a “catch and release”. Hoping to drive them away, I played polka music on the radio in the barn at night. Hoping to be preemptive, I braided the manes up to be less tempting but even those got twisted and jumbled. Just as I was becoming ever more desperate and about to round up more feral cats, the tangling stopped.
It appeared the gnomes had moved on to a more hospitable habitat. I had succeeded in my gnome eradication plan. Or so I thought.
Not long after, I had the distinct feeling of being watched as I walked past some rose bushes in the yard. I stopped to take a look, expecting to spy the shining eyes of one of the pesky raccoons that frequents our yard to steal from the cats’ food dish. Instead, beneath the thorny foliage, I saw two round blue eyes peering at me serenely. This little gal was not at all intimidated by me, and made no move to escape. She was an ideal example of Gernumbli gardensi, a garden gnome known for their ability to keep varmints and vermin away from plants and flowers. They also happen to actively feud with Gernumbli Faenilesi so that explained the sudden disappearance of my little knot-tying pests in the barn.
It wasn’t long before more Gardensi moved in, a gnomey infestation. They tended to arrive in pairs and bunches, liked to play music, smoked pipes, played on a teeter totter, worked with garden tools, took naps on sun-warmed rocks and one even preferred a swing. They are a bit of a rowdy bunch but I enjoy their happy presence and jovial demeanor. I haven’t yet heard any bad language as we have a “keep it clean” policy about bad words around here. They seem quite hardy, stoically withstand extremes in weather, and only seem fearful when hornets build a nest right in their lap.
As long as they continue to coexist peaceably with us and each other, keep the varmints and their knot tying cousins away, and avoid bad habits and swear words, I’m quite happy they are here. Actually, I’ve given them the run of the place. I’ve been told to be cautious as there are now news reports of an even more invasive species of gnome, Gernumbli kitschsi, that could move in and take over if I’m not careful.
I shudder to think. There goes the neighborhood.
Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.
Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts at night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.
And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid-air stands still.
For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfill.
The wind, one brilliant day, called
to my soul with an odor of jasmine.
“In return for the odor of my jasmine,
I’d like all the odor of your roses.”
“I have no roses; all the flowers
in my garden are dead.”
“Well then, I’ll take the withered petals
and the yellowed leaves and the waters of the fountain.”
The wind left. And I wept. And I said to myself:
“What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?”
~Antonio Machado translated by Robert Bly
This garden blooming with potential,
entrusted to me, now 26 years:
the health and care of 15,000 students,
most thriving and flourishing,
some withering, their petals falling,
a few lost altogether.
As winds of time sweep away
another cohort from my care,
to be blown to places unknown,
I weary weep for losses,
wondering if I’ve failed to water enough
or is it only I with thirst unceasing,
my roots drying out, hidden away deep beneath me?
…one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.
~Billy Collins from “Forgetfulness”
…and there it is again —
beauty the brave, the exemplary,
Do you love this world?
Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath?
Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden,
and exclaiming of their dearness,
fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,
with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling,
to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are
~Mary Oliver from “Peonies”
White peonies blooming along the porch
send out light
while the rest of the yard grows dim.
Outrageous flowers as big as human
heads! They’re staggered
by their own luxuriance: I had
to prop them up with stakes and twine.
The moist air intensifies their scent,
and the moon moves around the barn
to find out what it’s coming from.
In the darkening June evening
I draw a blossom near, and bending close
search it as a woman searches
a loved one’s face.
~Jane Kenyon “Peonies at Dusk”
Year after year, I bring peonies to the graves
of those from whom I came,
to lay one after another exuberant head
upon each headstone,
a moment of connection between us
before it shatters,
its petals perfectly
scattered to the wind.
Wither me to within me:
Welt me to weal me common again:
Withdraw to wear me weary:
Over me to hover and lover again:
Before me to form and perform me:
Round me to rill me liquid incisions:
Behind me to hunt and haunt me:
Down me to drown indecision:
Bury me to seed me: bloom me
In loam me: grind me to meal me
Knead me to rise: raise me to your mouth
Rive me to river me:
End me to unmend me:
Rend me to render me:
~Philip Metres “Prayer”
The truth is:
though we prefer to gaze on fresh beauty,
to ponder smooth youthful perfection
rather than the pocked and wrinkled
the used-up and weary,
our prayer desires His everlasting love
even when we fall in frailty.
We wither from the first day,
readying for fruit to burst forth
as we, torn and buried,
are sown to rise again.
The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”