Perception and Reality

January 27, 2011

Often, your perception of reality is skewed by time. Eliza once told me that her room in our first house was much bigger than her room here. Because my mind holds onto obscure data and the dimensions of her former room certainly fits into that category, I measured out 9 x 12 within her present room. “Whoa,” she said, “why does it seems like it was so much bigger?”

She forgets that she herself was a great deal smaller, like Alice growing with the “Drink Me” bottle shrinking in her hand.

My perception of my garden tends to be like that as well. For me, I remember the things that didn’t work; the brussel sprouts and green peppers that were shadowed and stunted by the zucchini and watermelon, the smaller impatiens that struggled to catch up to the stronger plants on the other side of the bed, the hostas and astilbes that didn’t leap up like I’d wanted.

A few weeks ago, the Chicago Flower and Garden Show put out a call for photographic entries. With literally thousands of photographs now at my disposal, I want to enter. So I went back through all my posts, starting in the spring, and looked at all the photographs day by day, picture by picture, looking for The Image – you’re only allowed one entry per person per category.

As I passed through March, April and got into May, I realized something I’d never really appreciated before. Duds and unexpected bare spots not withstanding, non-performers and disappointments ignored, the garden is simply lovely. I didn’t realize how lush and green, how full and rich, how colorful and prolific it really is in mid-summer. It is easy to forget the glory when you watch the slow descent.

Today it is snowing, beginning with dusty powder, turning to fat flakes and back to powder again. Flakes filter through the finch feeder, as if someone filled the sock with snow instead of seed. Snow hits the pin oak leaves with a tick, creating a hissing sound that fills the backyard. It ticks onto the clematis leaves, weighing them down, dipping them low enough to soak my hair as I pass through the arbor.

The front of the house is spread with a white sheet, clean, clear of footprints or tracks or blowing leaves. It is perfectly white, perfectly blank and surely will not stay this way for long. There is a tiny hole in the snow that covers the peony bed; perhaps a blip of warmth from a stone or maybe one of Clarence’s cousins. On the side of the house, I see brand new tracks, made just moments before, by a Damn Rabbit or two that sat huddled in the yard, letting the snow mound up around them. There is a bare patch of grass within the snow and it is scuffed and scratched. I have disturbed them.

Good.

In this whiteness, this sweep of nothing, there is little green. There are no buds, no new shoots, no blossoms. The landscape is brown and white. It can be difficult to remember the bounty when everything is barren. So I am very grateful for this photography contest. Even if my image is deemed unworthy, however trite this may sound, I have still won.

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