Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Butterflies Abound

It is the season of the yellow butterflies. In Birdland they huddle in puddles, folded like an origami, then open to rise in their colorful dances. I’m romanticizing, of course, imposing an anthropomorphic narrative on them. It is probably more like a dogfight, but still, lovely to watch, and takes my mind a little off of this humidity. Coming home from Seattle, where I was wishing I’d gone ahead and packed that second sweater after all, I’m finding it just a little bit difficult to feel grateful for the heat.

The Blackberries have peaked, but are still worth a walk to my secret bramble patch. I picked an abundance before my trip, and hoped they would hold out for my return. A few did, but yesterday’s bucket was a little lighter than last week’s. I have enough for a few cobblers put up in the freezer. I freeze them in a single layer on cookie sheets, so they freeze separately into stony, little marbles. Then they are pour-able, and I can use them in any quantity—from a handful on top of ice cream, to a pie-full.

The Black-Eyed Susans are blooming, along with some small sunflowers. They’re attracting both bees and butterflies, and I’m glad to see them. The Jerusalem Artichokes won’t be far behind. Meanwhile, the Burdock and Thistle bring magenta to the garden in festive outbursts like Fourth of July Firecrackers, while the rain has revived the ghost lilies, with their pale pink trumpets. Last summer we learned a new name for them—“Naked Ladies”—and we talk about planting a fairy circle of Naked Ladies to dance in our yard. Ghost lilies have to be my favorite flower for their metaphoric qualities, and I hope I won’t bore you if I revisit them in these letters every year when they bloom. They have numerous names, all poetic. I grew up calling them Ghost Lilies, but I have also heard them called Surprise Lilies, Resurrection Lilies, Magic Lilies, and now Naked Ladies. The leaves come up in the spring, and they are fast growing, but otherwise unremarkable. They begin as fat little sprouts about the size of your thumb, with the leaves neatly lined up like the pages of a book. They emerge pretty quickly, growing several inches a day until they spread out like a bouquet of green leaves and finally flop over and turn yellow. The leaves wither and decay quietly, until you can’t find even a trace of them. You forget about them and turn to other blooms, other chores, and the summer comes in full blast. Sometime in July, usually after a soaking rain, they awaken once again, this time only pointed buds on a fleshy stalk, no shelter of leaves, reaching toward the sky like strange, long-necked birds. Again with the growth spurt, like an adolescent boy’s summer, or Jack’s magic beanstalk, they reach for the sky, and the buds become pale pink bells with a gentle fragrance like Hyacinth. The stalks remain naked—the leaves a distant memory. They last a week or so, and then quietly fade.

This is all noteworthy, but to me the magic is contained in what we don’t see, what is buried underground. The leaves come early, gathering sunlight and soaking up energy to feed the hidden bulbs. I am always surprised, when I dig them, at how deeply they’re burrowed, sometimes a full foot beneath the surface. The bulbs are large and crisp, and surprisingly white where I’ve accidentally cut them with my shovel. Although the lilies are natural hybrids and don’t produce seeds, the bulbs multiply underground, so after a few years they are easy to dig up and spread around. I think we have enough now for a large fairy circle. The only problem is remembering where to dig once the flowers have faded and sunk back into the earth to feed next year’s growth. I might dig them this year, or I might just think about how our secret hidden underground parts can lead to surprising growth and enchanting beauty.

Nurture Beauty; Develop Peace; Blessed Be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is interested in transformations of all kinds. You can find her at the Mahomet Market on Wednesdays from 3-6 and at the Steeple Gallery Coffeehouse in Monticello on second Saturdays from 10-2. See her Birdland facebook page for an events schedule.

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