Spring, a story of plants

But where are my Pride of Barbados and the esperanza lining 281 south? What of the flowers that live on the floor of an oak forest and the sage, flowered, atop its limestone cliff? The stone loop of 1604 with its stunted evergreens… I wonder how many of them are still decorated for Christmases past.

When we moved, my mother got the backyard she always wanted. She and my father spent weeks digging themselves a pond in the evenings. I remember sitting in the kitchen and watching as their blistered hands pulled forth more earth, crawling with life and the mysteries of undeveloped land. The new backyard was barren, a land that seemed to me too vast to possibly populate with the greenery of which she dreamed.

Where are my Texas Mountain Laurel with its grape perfume and Mexican Heather in the front yard of my childhood home, home itself to the bees about my ankles, buzzy and sundrunk? I knew spring arrived when its purple flowers were covered in the hairy bodies of sweet, bumbling bees.

Our previous home, a rental across town, is where she showed us what dirt smells like after rain and how a weekend trip to Houston means arriving home to new baby squash and a jungle of string beans. There she gradually filled the ancient raised beds and showed us how caring for plants was as much a game of trial and error as it was a natural display of love.

Where are my zucchini flowers with their sticky sharpness and the rotten tulip bulbs unearthed by falling hail? My grandfather drank his coffee and stared at the storm while we held hands worrying about the vegetables.

One day my sister and I went into the woods behind the new house and dug up a yucca for my mother. We planted it in the backyard where it was visible from the kitchen window and beside it we gave a new home to a miniature rose bush. The plants looked pitiful, as if they had fallen roots-first off the back of a truck. Nobody bothered to throw them out and instead they pushed their way into the earth.

Where are my rhododendron and Jasmine creeping across the back fence? I hated their urine smell and the way vermin could hide in them, but their blooms marked so many passing years from my bedroom window.

We announced our triumph and showed her what we had done. I cannot recall her reaction—surely a mixture of incredulity, appreciation, and a stifled laugh—but I know how important it made us feel to give her our gift.

Where are my Turk’s Cap
amaryllis of my life
the peach tree outside my closet window on Brighton Oaks
the trumpet vine on Ridge Spur
the coreopsis beneath the Hackberry tree
datura with its evil bells outside the neighbor’s window
the vitex she planted on Trentwood when the Hackberry came down
banana trees whose vascular tissue grew even after being cut down for winter

I have grown even as I was cut down this winter. My childhood home is gone forever and spring creeps beyond a haze of fluorescent gray over the Hudson river. I miss the smells of my home and the birds and bees who grazed and lived among the names, scientific and common, that I collected for my mother’s treasures.

Yesterday I saw my first crocus blooms. I am learning a new flora and making it feel like home. Yellow buds along the train tracks show me that this may be the last time I take the 256 line south with my traveling companion, winter.

And I am ready to thaw.

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