For the last several weeks I've been keeping an eye on a few pansies in a clay pot sitting on my front porch, wondering when they would finally be beaten by the weather. The remnant of a $6.99 flat of the butterfly flowers has withstood hammering wind and rain, three nights of twenty-degree F cold (on two separate occasions), and a snowstorm. The flowers flag and sag but a few recover, lifting their heads in defiance of the temperatures and season.
In November, after the first cold night, just down to freezing, I thought that would be the end of them. They looked pretty sad. But, no, they came back. And after the snow, they remained with bright clean edges and buds slowly opening.
They survived three nights of 20 degree cold, and a bud determined to open began to do so.
As I do every year, I planted the pansies in May. That's eight months ago. Granted pansies are a cold weather flower and flourish in what used to be a spring that had some cool evenings and days. We have fewer of those in the northeast, but still, late April and May are the right months for these plants. But still my few survived through increasing heat and now cold.
This is where I should find a lesson in the simple pansy for the life of a writer. The little flower inspires with its tenacity in the chaotic weather patterns, the changing worlds of publishing we all have to cope with, the buds refusing to shrivel and die, just as the committed writer refuses to give up. But I'm not going in that direction. If this is about anything, it's about wonder. Edward O. Wilson makes sense of the, to me, nearly incomprehensible science in his new book, The Meaning of Human Existence. He manages to explore evolution, our place in the universe, and ideas we hold dear—instinct, religion, and free will—while making it all accessible and sensible. I like to think my pansies are in there somewhere.
When I set out for my walk in the early morning (well, at least at first light, which isn't early in this season), the first thing I see is the pot of blue and white flowers, in contrast to the gray of early winter. The rotting leaves on the lawn, the paved street, and the bare trees are my first view—except for the pansies—and right now everything is drab.
Once the winter starts, it stays for what feels like forever. I could be looking at my yard in early spring, with the ground about to thaw and the trees about to leaf out. How I wish I could bypass winter . . . Right now I'll take the potted flowers outside on the porch, and watch to see how long they last. Perhaps I should bring them in, help them winter over, and bloom again in the spring. I'm sure it's possible. But I like seeing how nature can surprise me, and please me and teach me.
For now I let the flowers and green leaves greet me every morning as I set out, and welcome me back after a few hours away. I didn't expect this from a simple flat of very ordinary annuals. I'm glad to be surprised. And hope to continue to be surprised through December. Perhaps I'm failing in my duty as a writer to make much of this series of moments, but I'm satisfied just to have them there where I can see them, watch over them, and hope they last.