Dixie Brown: I am a writer who lives in Hampshire County. I work as a writing coach at the Commonwealth Honors College at UMass. I love to hike in the Holyoke Range and I enjoy singing, playing my flute and gardening.
The daffodils are doing fine in this time of the coronavirus. Week after week they go on unfolding their brightness and stay beautiful for weeks, helped by cool nights and plenty of rain. Looking at them, and feeling the vertiginous way I often do these days, I’m almost puzzled at their perfection as so many humans are getting sick and dying all over the world.
I give my head a little jostle, as if that will help me take in the pervasive confusion of our new reality. What pops into my mind is Virginia Woolf alluding to the horrors of the First World War in To The Lighthouse. I go down in the basement, retrieve the novel and find this: “In spring . . . violets came and daffodils. But the stillness and the brightness of the day were as strange as the chaos and tumult of night, with the trees standing there, and the flowers standing there, looking before them, looking up, yet beholding nothing, eyeless, and so terrible.”
I’m stunned by how perfectly Woolf captures what it is for me right now. The passage comes from a section of the novel entitled “Time Passes,” and those two words resonate for me as well. Time passes, day after day, and we stay in our houses. We turn away from each other when we are outdoors or in a supermarket, eyes meeting briefly above our facemasks. Time passes and we have no idea how many tomorrows lie between today and being able to hug our friends again. Time passes and I lose track of what day it is.
The daffodils, however, are not confused. They are going about their business as they always have. In due time their blossoms will fade and their leaves will use the sun, the rain and the goodness of the earth to strengthen their bulbs for next year’s show.
There’s comfort in that. I wonder if the burst of gardening happening all over the valley right now is about the comfort of the predictable turning of the seasons as much as it is about growing food and flowers. Time has gotten weird for us, but not for nature.
While I’m quoting famous writers, here’s E.B. White’s description of his wife Katharine’s ritual of getting spring bulbs into the ground, even when she was close to dying. It’s in his introduction to her book, Onward and Upward in the Garden, which came out after her death. It’s an excellent reminder that rebirth is always everywhere, even in the midst of a pandemic:
“As the years went by and age overtook her, there was something comical yet touching in her bedraggled appearance on this awesome occasion—the small, hunched-over figure, her studied absorption in the implausible notion that there would be yet another spring, oblivious to the ending of her own days, which she knew perfectly well was near at hand, sitting there with her detailed chart under those dark skies in the dying October, calmly plotting the resurrection.”