Tuesday, June 1, 2004

A Leafy Bower

The hydrangea outside my kitchen window changes shade imperceptibly each day. The blooms started out whitish with the slightest hint of washed out lilac, and subsequently have gone through the spectrum of blues from light, know there is a name for this shade, but the only reference that comes to mind is the sort of light blue car color favored by Oldsmobile, Lincoln or Caddy driving grannies. The color has now deepened to more of a purplish tone. In my mind's eye, I am constantly re-drawing my garden, if such the rather forlorn and randomly placed shrubs and trees planted by the house's original owners, could be called. I make for myself a leafy bower. I see trellises of jasmine climbing up the stark brick walls of the house, I build multi-tiered Frank Lloyd Wrightian brick planters with cement caps redefining the front yard, holding weeping cherry trees, the children's vegetable garden, my husband's tomatoes, with steps in between and borders like an oriental rug. I should like to have an outer border of crepe myrtle, lots of gardenias, and of course--a fountain. What I do have is one new low wall of planters to enclose the back yard of our corner lot.

The rain has been sparse this spring and I have to water the new plantings fairly frequently. It is the early evening and my daughter wants to help. The shade and partial shade garden form a border under the canopy of two oak trees. I stifle the impatience that wants to get this done in a relatively brief amount of time and take the time to teach her how to water the plants properly, indicating the name of every plant as we go--dogwood, camelia japonica, camelia sassanqua, azalea, lenten rose, fern, pieris, hydrangea, astilbe, columbine. By the end of this episode, the mosquitoes are as sated on our blood as the plants are quenched with water.

I make an association between teaching plant names to my daughter and the Loreena McKennitt song "The Mummers Dance" from "the book of secrets" CD, which I lost over a year ago, before recovering it in exactly the place I remembered it being, a place where I can remember having searched countless times. The song would haunt me several years ago in Northern California, right around the time my daughter was born. It got some radio play and I would catch snatches of it, but it was months before I managed to catch the part where they named the artist and title. My daughter likes learning the names of things the way I do. Physically, the only traits where she resembles me are the fair skin and a certain expression in her eyes, which are brown, and not grey-green. In an abstract way, she reminds me of one of the Infantas from Velasquez's painting "Las Meninas," something about the fair skin, dark eyes, golden hair and the set of her face. The faerie childe tosses her hair, the ropes of natural curls recalling the ribbons and leafy garlands in the song.

When in the springtime of the year, when the trees
Are crowned with leaves. When the ash and oak, and
The birch and yew are dressed in ribbons fair.

When owls call the breathless moon, in the blue

Veil of the night, the shadows of the trees appear
Amidst the lantern light

We've been rambling all the night, and some time of
This day. Now returning back again, we bring a
Garland gay

Who will go down to the those shady groves and
Summon the shadows there, and tie a ribbon on

Those sheltering arms, in the springtime of the year.

Ah, the evocative power of naming. The CD insert reference to mummers comes from John Frazer's book The Golden Bough, according to which "mumming has its roots in the tree-worshipping of the peoples who inhabited the great forested regions of a Europe now long gone. Mumming usually involves a group of performers dressing up in masks (sometimes of straw) and clothes bedecked with ribbons or rags, and setting out on a procession to neighboring homes singing songs and carrying branches of greenery." I also looked up mummer in the Collins English Dictionary, where it is 1) one of a group of masked performers in folk play or mime 2) a mime artist 2) humorous or derogatory, an actor. Apparently the word derives from the old French momeur, from momer to mime, related to momon mask. I looked up two similar sounding words--mummy, an embalmed or preserved body, deriving from Old French momie, from Medieval Latin mumia from Arabic mumiyah for asphalt, and originally the Persian word mum for wax. In the Collins Dictionary, there were no linguistic origins given for mummy, the English child's word for mother. The potential associations there are boundless and, occasionally, disturbing.

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