What We Do

I bobbed among the sea of fresh laundry. The children were helping with the folding and sorting, while I cackled and rattled around like a mother hen. Mother hens don’t fold clothes, I know, but it is a metaphor, or a simile or an odious comparison when viewed from the angle of a hen. Anyway, the conversation was quicker than the folding and after some time, I patted them on a job well done, and sent them over for a spot of week-end television. They tumbled off clucking happily. A prized activity they seem to think it is, though they seem to watch the same programs over and over again. 

After some more cleaning, I took stock. True, there was loads of cleaning left to do, but that was always the case. For now, the boats of laundry were taken care of, the family fed, the kitchen scrubbed, the shoes, jackets and all the paraphernalia that is plopped all over the place were back where they belonged. The children were happily watching their week-end television, and the husband was pretending to do some work on the computer. All was well.

I gingerly stepped out for a breath of fresh air even though it was cold. As soon as I opened the door, the wind gently lifted my hair welcoming my foray into the quiet pleasures of a Winter day. I surveyed my flower pots weathering the wind, rain and still cheerfully raising their heads welcoming the end of Winter. If that isn’t an invitation for a stroll, I don’t know what is, I told myself and set off, an umbrella swinging on my arm, and my spirits slowly rising to meet the clouded skies above.

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I stopped to gaze up at the trees sprouting the early Cherry Blossoms every now and then. One particular tree looked marvelous: There seemed to be a luminous glow on the cherry blossoms, with the dew drops glistening on them, and I could not help standing there, and catching a respite from the never ending activity that swirled around me. Our tasks and accomplishments seem to be so loud and cantankerous compared to this marvelous phenomenon of early Spring don’t they? 

The blossoming of a flower. 

I stood there wondering how lovely it would be to see the flower blossom, to actually see it expand into a flower from a bud. I suppose you could show me hundreds of time-lapse videos, but I still wanted to see the real thing. In front of my eyes. 

That is the sort of thing that will try the Dalai Lama’s patience, and I am happy that the thought to at least try it crossed my mind, since I knew my limits when it came to stilling the mind. A monkey mind if ever there was one. 

Watching a flower bloom is a thought that has occurred to many before me, and will occur to many after me. All we need to do is stop and admire a flower. In the River of Consciousness by Oliver Sacks, he says that as a boy, he used time lapse photography using multiple photographs and frames to develop the blossoming of a flower. To play with time in a sense.

“I experimented with photographing plants. Ferns, in particular, had many attractions for me, not least in their tightly wound crosiers or fiddleheads, tense with contained time, like watch springs, with the future all rolled up in them. So I would take set my camera on tripod and take hourly photographs…and make a little flick book. And then, as if by magic, I could see the fiddleheads unfurl, taking a second or two, for what in real time took a couple of days.”

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When seen this way, we are all time machines, slowly growing and morphing all the time, are we not? Unfurling with furious energy that detracts at times, but all of us unfurling all the time, hopefully evolving into what we shall and can be.

I gazed up at the flowers again and wondered whether self reproach, achievement, contentment, ambition, or any of the things that seem to matter so much to human beings meant anything in the grand scheme of things. I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes by Ursula Le Guin.

“Things don’t have purposes, as if the universe were a machine, where every part has a useful function. What’s the function of a galaxy? I don’t know if our life has a purpose and I don’t see that it matters. What does matter is that we’re a part. Like a thread in a cloth or a grass-blade in a field. It is and we are. What we do is like wind blowing on the grass.”

The rain picked up, and I opened up my umbrella. I had stood there a long time, and my feet and hands were numb. I went in to the home, and put my wet, cold hands against the warm cheeks of the children watching TV, and they squealed half in exasperation and half in fun as the rain drops trickled down their cheeks. They chided me, united in their purpose: “Walking in the rain – being nuts! again? You will catch a cold. Go and get warm. Now!”

It was lovely to see the chicks take charge, and get a glimpse of the unfurling.

The Secret To Blooming Like a Flower

I gabbled on about the beautiful Kurinji flower over a distinctly sub-par dinner one night. Sometimes the rhythms of cooking are too frequent. “Do we really need to eat every few hours?!” I said drowning out the sound of “You haven’t cooked in 3 days!”

The children listened – one with ardent curiosity bursting with questions and the other cloaked in teenage blasé that belies the true interest behind the flowers. ( “Cool!” – only a little wag of the ear indicating possible interest).

“Can you believe the Kurinji blooms without alarms and clocks to set store by? Every 12 years like clockwork!”

The questions that followed were better than the answers:

  • Do all of them bloom at the exact same time?
  • What about plants that grew later, won’t they all flower at different times?

My answers are not answers that would have pleased Charles Darwin perhaps, but if he wanted to answer right, he should’ve been there, not let me field them is my stout reply to this.

Interesting aside:
The River of Consciousness by Oliver Sacks starts off with an essay on Darwin and the Meaning of Flowers.

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I could see why Darwin liked his flowers so much. This was long after his magnum opus, The Origin of Species, was completed. He actually spent the last decades of his life pottering about his green house, setting the children in his life to chart the course of the bees, studying orchids and their flowering patterns etc, and was therefore immensely better prepared than yours truly.

His joy was evident in his letters:

“You cannot conceive how the Orchids have delighted me .. What wonderful structures! … Happy man, he [who] has actually see rows of bees flying around Catasetum, with the pollinia sticking to their backs! .. I never was more interested in any subject in all my life than in this of Orchids.”

He went on to write the book with the fascinating title: On the Various Contrivances by Which British and Foreign Orchids Are Fertilized by Insects

Meanwhile, the kurinji flower was still blooming in the home: the river of questions on What Is Time flowed on:
What is Time when you are a flower?
What is Time when you are a squirrel?

The husband had a bemused and half-exasperated expression on his face, as he heard me talk about alarms, time and biological clocks. He watched me squirm and the urge to tut came to me. I knew what was going on in that optimistic mind of his. He hopes I will have the sense of a Kurinji flower someday.

I feel bad for the old boy.

The thing is, I set beautiful poetic alarms, replete with soothing ringtones to go with it, place them on his side of the bed, and then proceed to sleep like a blessed bear in the winter.

If we need to get up at 6 a.m., I set the alarm for 5:30 a.m. thereby allowing me to snooze a few times, and then go back to dozing the doze of the blessed. It is marvelous to get that snooze time, and some of my best snoozes are at this time. This vague time of day between wakeful consciousness and blissful unconsciousness.

If everything in the universe follows a pattern, how do we determine what ours is, without the aid of all our poetic alarms? There is a beauty to seeing the natural things around us, for they soothe us in ways quite unknown to our hectic way of life.

I was reading Village Diary by Miss Read for the n-th time (like a flower knows when to bloom, I know when it is time for a Miss Read re-read), and I admired yet again the simple way in which she had set a truth about humanity in her beautiful language.

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Quote:

As I ironed, I amused myself by watching a starling at the edge of the garden bed. He was busy detaching the petals from an anemone…

This short scene, I thought as I pressed handkerchiefs, is typical of the richness that surrounds the country dweller and which contributes to his well-being. As he works, he sees about him other ways of life being pursued at their tempo – not only animal life, but that of crops and trees, of flowers and insects – all set within the greater cycle of the four seasons. It has a therapeutic value, this awareness of myriad forms and varied pace of other lives.

So, maybe that is the secret to blooming like a flower. Set our patterns to the natural rhythms of the world around us rather than to the dictates of productive days.

“Hmm … when would you naturally feel like doing stuff? Like cooking! Just asking!” said the teen rolling those eyes of hers. The loud guffaws that accompanied this were appreciation enough for a chef.

I think I will take after that Kurinji flower after all.

Books:

  • River of Consciousness – by Oliver Sacks
  • Village Diary – by Miss Read
  • Origin of Species – Darwin
  • On the Various Contrivances by Which British and Foreign Orchids Are Fertilized by Insects – Charles Darwin
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