Four Quotes

These are too startling, or too insightful, or too sparkling not to share.

Nothing worth mentioning occurred during their journey to Swan; except the endless pleasant things of the country in summer. There were beech spinneys, wading up steep banks through their own dead leaves; fields all blurred with meadow-sweet and sorrel; brown old women screaming at their goats; acacias in full flower, and willows blown by the wind into white blossom. — Hope Mirrlees, Lud-in-the-Mist

Lombardy has not inaptly been likened to an artichoke, the leaves of which were eaten off in succession by the lords of Piedmont. — Baedeker’s Guide to Northern Italy, 1892

All reality is iconoclastic. The earthly beloved, even in this life, incessantly triumphs over your mere idea of her. And you want her to; you want her with all her resistances, all her faults, all her unexpectedness. That is, in her foursquare and independent reality. — CS LewisA Grief Observed

In every important way we are such secrets from each other, and I do believe that there is a separate language in each of us, also a separate aesthetics and a separate jurisprudence. Every single one of us is a little civilization built on the ruins of any number of preceding civilizations, but with our own variant notions of what is beautiful and what is acceptable – which, I hasten to add, we generally do not satisfy and by which we struggle to live. — Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

A. and Begonias

I planted a buttload of begonias three weeks ago – and I’m going to tell you about it now because the poetry isn’t coming.

It was a Monday: my first day at my new job. The work at the range wasn’t available until the following day, so I was given some work to do at a casino. At six in the morning I was paired up with A., a Mexican fellow with a thick accent and a truckful of flowers. He didn’t say much. That was okay with me. It was six in the morning. He just started pulling out flats of flowers and placing them in the beds. I had to ask or guess where he wanted me to place them. Since I had trouble understanding him, I mostly tried to guess. After a few false starts, (“Boy! Wait.”) we managed to work together fairly well. Finally, the flowers were arranged, and he said, “Have you planted before?” “No,” I said, even though I had. “It’s easy,” he said. And he showed me how to plant a begonia.

I haven’t really observed many people planting begonias before, but if I were a betting man I’d put money on A. for fastest planter this side of the Fraser. He sort of popped the plants into the ground in one fluid motion. Trowel in, ground open, flower in, ground closed. There was no fuss about patting the soil, no tamping soil down to prop up a drooping stem – the ground just closed around the base of the plant and that was that. It was plugged in. It was charging. I tried to imitate him about four hundred times, but I couldn’t match his effortless efficiency.

I’ve been reading John Steinbeck lately, and the way Steinbeck takes pleasure in describing plants and animals and land made me want to describe A. as a man like Doc, from Cannery Row, or Adam, from East of Eden – both men with a special connection to creation. Take this from Cannery Row:

Because he loved true things he tried to explain. He said he was nervous and besides he wanted to see the country, smell the ground and look at grass and birds and trees, to savour the country, and there was no other way to do it save on foot.

I thought maybe A. has that kind of connection with begonias. You know, magic hands or something. Planting hands. And maybe he does. Maybe he smokes two packs a day, gets angry in traffic, thinks about retirement, gets yelled at because somebody overwatered the echinaceas, and still marvels privately at the act of putting a flower in the ground. Like the ground is a giant circuit board, and every growing thing is a little coloured light or a chip or a capacitator that you take from one place in the circuit and plug into another, and it comes to life again. If A. has that kind of connection with begonias, that would be a starting place for a good story. But it was hard to tell by looking at him what he was thinking about. We worked in silence and the rain until we ran out of plants. At the end of the day he wished me luck at the range.