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Recently, when I made one of my regular tours of our back yard to observe the season’s gifts of flowering plants, I lingered at each plant to observe its unique design, color and fragrance.
I enjoyed the soothing fragrance of lavender, the delicate beauty of sweet potato blossom, the swath of faithful black-eyed Susans and our most recent acquisition, the Mexican petunia, so flouncy and so purple.
I stopped to visit the knock-out roses, which have been constant friends since early summer, and a few asters, still blooming in a bed of pine straw.
My yard tour eventually took me to the huge hydrangea bush, still faithful after many seasons of blooming up against the house. Its big blooms are now a faded brown, laced with the slightest touch of purple. The sight took me back to their June-blue glory, their heads bobbing in the breeze.
But wait! Among the big brown blossoms was one brave blossom that was still June-blue — yes, in October, June-blue!
So it is with nature to allow a few flowers to bloom out of season and to delight us as we were delighted in summer. The sight of the June-blue hydrangea sparked a thought of the bush’s drive to survive into the next season, a lesson that we humans would be wise to learn.
After the October hydrangea surprise, I continued my yard tour in the direction of the hedges between our yard and our neighbor’s to a row of 20 or so Japanese quince bushes. My first thought was that in February I would cut a few branches of quince and force them to bloom in a cut-glass vase so that I could have a preview of spring. Quince always gives me hope that spring will really arrive after a bleak winter.
But wait! As I got to the quince row toward the back of the yard, I noticed that a brave and diminutive precursor of spring, a pink quince flower, was already in bloom. There was yet another flower in our yard booming out of season to give hope for spring, and it is still October.
But wait! The hydrangea and the Japanese quince, both blooming out of season, brought to mind a memorable lesson from American literature. Jean Toomer, an American poet who knew something about survival and hope, published a marvelous sonnet, “November Cotton Flower.” His sonnet appeared in a longer work, “Cane,” and painted a picture of yet another flower that bloomed out of season.
This sonnet tells of a cotton field in November, all spent and “rusty” and barren after the fall’s cotton crop had been harvested. Toomer writes, “Such was the season when the flower bloomed.” A cotton flower, blooming not in the summer as was expected, but in November, was a novelty and a surprise.
Like the hydrangea and the Japanese quince blooming out of season, the cotton flower was a symbol of survival and hope for better times.
So it is with nature to teach, heal and sustain us humans.
Here is what I plan to do after my regular October tour of our back yard to observe the season’s gift of flowering plants. I will be on the lookout for other out-of-season flowers. I will also reflect on survival, hope and the last words of Toomer’s poem: “Brown eyes that loved without a trace of fear, / Beauty so sudden for that time of year.”
Why not read Toomer’s poem, find a picture of a cotton flower and observe its “brown eyes” that have no fear of blooming out of season?
I give thanks to nature for its valuable lessons and to Jean Toomer for calling attention to what nature has to teach.
My life is richer for both.
Sanda Baucom Hight is retired from Wilson County Schools after serving as an English teacher and is currently a substitute teacher in Wilson County. Her column focuses on the charms of home, school and country life.