Sunday, August 31, 2014
Sweet peas are a flower of my childhood. Their fragrance has the power to send me back to North Idaho summers, a version of my mom I saw far too little of, and the innocence of a time when I believed anything was possible. Nearly every year of my adult life I plant sweet peas. Some years they do better than others, but I always look forward to the bit of time travel the bright jewel blooms provide.
I had high hopes this year. I got the seeds planted early, in a half barrel that gets good sunlight. I stuck with traditional seeds bought at a local feed store, unlike last year when I spent a lot of money on fancy mail order heirloom seeds that didn't produce any more flowers, or any better fragrance than the cheap kind. I watched the shoots push through the soil and grow into vining stalks that climbed and clung to the trellis. The foliage was thick and green and healthy.
And for weeks, there were no flowers. Not one. When we got back from the canyon, I expected to see a cascade of color and to walk into a storm of radiated fragrance. That was certainly the case for our other flowers. But not my sweet peas.
Eventually a flower bloomed. One. And then there was another a few days later. Within a week I was able to make a very small bouquet, which left the plants completely bare of flowers. And they stayed bare for quite a while longer.
A week ago school preparations took over our lives. Walt started with kids last Wednesday. I start with kids this coming Wednesday. This particular year is more consuming than normal for me with a new building where we have limited access, are still waiting for pieces of furniture, and where all routines have to be redefined and relearned. We have new standards, new testing, and a whole new way of scheduling.
So when I got home a couple of days ago, my mind was busy trying to sort all of that out. I greeted Toby and Bunkie and Walt through a fog of half-formed solutions and myriad unanswered questions, made thicker by the fog of accumulating fatigue from badly slept nights. As I stood in our backyard, working to still my mind and to be home, soaking up the particular warmth of the late afternoon late summer sun, the sweet peas caught my eye.
They were covered in color. Little dots of pink and red and purple and white, making the whole plant look for all the world like a lit Christmas tree. At the end of August when I would have expected the plants to be dried and shriveled and done, their blooming season is just starting.
Exactly like my life.
For a long time I despaired about ever blooming at all. It seemed like too much had happened, and it took me too long to heal, and I was too old. It seemed like whatever flowers I might produce would be weak and spindly and starved-looking. Second best. More foliage than anything, without the rich aroma and vivid colors guaranteed from plants that bloom in season.
In the canyon this summer something awakened in me that I expect will carry me to the end of my days. An emerging understanding of my connection to the larger whole of life. A clarity about what's important, what's needed, and what's the opposite of those two things. A new ability to not try so hard to make things fit my picture of how they should be, and to live with the resulting uncertainty with a spirit of adventure.
Even though retirement is close enough for me to smell its sweet fragrance, the years between here and there offer their own promise of deep living. A school year I'm actually excited about. A fresher version of myself I'm looking forward to getting to know. A trip to Italy in the spring. An old marriage re-energized by the wild flow of the Colorado River. I may be blooming late, like this year's sweet peas, but the flowers are that much more precious because of their unexpected arrival.