Averyell A. Kessler
I wrote this two years ago when the virus was just taking hold. A lot has happened since then. We’re turning the corner, slowly, but turning. Accordingly the news is moving along to other things. Now I’m hearing a lot of talk about roots. Particularly from broadcasters and politicians, aka those who know best (really?) Roots are usually linked with the word “cause”, as in finding the root cause of some malady or distasteful situation. Roots are demons which should be jerked up and tossing into a blazing fire. I have a different opinion. In my mind, roots are a blessing. I’ll stick with my grandfather’s Avery Gardens definition of roots. Ergo, this post.
Ralph Waldo Emmerson said, “Earth laughs in flowers.” What an interesting thought. Especially now when laughter is rare, but flowers are not. Spring brings them on, as she always does, chasing winter away and filling her arms with daffodils, roses, and four o’clocks with bright faces. She smiles and waves as azaleas open and a clematis vine winds its way around my fence post. When May arrives there’s no holding back. Three ancient magnolias will bloom in my front yard showing off velvet petals and sending out the sweetest perfume this side of the Mississippi. Outside, on my patio, a tiny begonia I considered a goner is returning to life, and tiny green shoots are emerging from a left-for-dead poinsettia. They survived with deep roots.
I grew up in a world overflowing with plants and flowers. That’s not unusual in the south. My father was a happy gardener, if not a skilled one. Every year he tended a small triangular plot of Dutch iris by the side of our Belhaven house, blessing them with Vigoro until lovely purple blossoms appeared. He also planted a row of red floribunda roses but removed them when I tripped over a jump rope, fell into a cluster of thorns, and howled like a hyena. His grape vine experiment went well for a while, until he realized that it was a friend of Godzilla’s and the vine overtook Mama’s clothesline. Not a single grape appeared, so he stuck to big boy tomatoes for the next few years. Finally, he decided he’d limit his gardening activities to raking leaves and mowing the grass. A good decision.
My grandfather WG was also a flower guy. As soon as he was able, he purchased 30 acres of raw land on County Line Road and trucked up a load of azaleas and camelias from the Gulf Coast. He fashioned a loosely organized garden, no landscapers allowed. Later he dug a well and laid down pipes to draw water from his ponds. Fertilizer came from a highly suspicious source and smelled worse than rotten eggs. One rule prevailed. Never, under any circumstances, cut down a tree. Especially his single prized sycamore which made a mess every spring by dropping spikey brown balls. To him, each tree was sacrosanct as well as his best friend. The house he built in Avery Gardens was constructed without sacrificing a single tree. Ours, on the far side of the pond, caused the loss of only two. He viewed their sacrifice as a necessary tragedy.
“What’s wrong with cutting down a tree,” I asked him.
“There’s no life without trees,” he answered. “No oxygen. No rain either.” Tenth grade biology was still miles away and I was amazed by this news. “Trees are meant to last,” he continued. “It’s almost impossible to dig one up because they have deep roots.”
I’ve been thinking about deep roots lately, especially since we’re living in a scenario that seems to come from the book of Job. During the last few months, my state has been overtaken by floods, unrelenting rain pocked with deadly tornadoes and straight-line winds strong enough to topple whatever stands in the way. Hurricane season is closing in, and no one knows what that will bring. Now the shadowy specter of disease has inched its way into everyday life, spreading its boney fingers and gobbling up any semblance of normality.
For the past few weeks, television commentators and various government officials have assured us that we’re going to get through this. That somehow, we’ll stumble along in this “new normal”, adapt to it and survive our fate. I disagree. We will do more than survive. In my small, conundrum of a state, we may be down, but not out. We’re scared, but we’re strong. If we fall on our knees, it’s for prayer, not begging. We’ll win out in the end because of grit and determination. Grace, courage and fortitude have been hiding for a long time. Finally, they’ve emerged, with flags flying and a big brass band. Quite simply, we want life back, our life. That’s a demand, not a request. When the storms die away, we’ll fight hard to rebuild shattered lives, and houses too. As flood waters recede, we’ll pull strength from the wreckage, mop up and start again. Science has beaten polio, smallpox and measles, as well as whooping cough, tetanus, mumps and rubella. It will beat the virus too. That’s a statement, not a guess. Like the ancient magnolias growing outside my windows, our roots are deep. They are wide, permanent and secure enough to anchor us to the earth and to each other. They are strong enough to bind up hurt and turn trouble back on its heels. We will succeed because our roots are deep, as is our faith and family. We are meant to last. So, summer, bless us with an abundance of flowers. We need them right now.