I aspire to be a writer. My two young granddaughters, though, ages four and seven, would not care if I never wrote another word.
They are staying with us now, during these confusing times, while both their parents work and school is a constantly changing possibility. We are fortunate to live in Provincetown, surrounded by a beautiful national park. Every day consists of a series of excursions, to nearby beaches and tidal flats, or woods, or the dunes, or to our neighbor’s horse corral, or sometimes strolls through town (masked, of course; doesn’t it break your heart to see a four-year-old in a mask?) that often end up at the fish pond in the harborside churchyard. Or to their favorite destination: the playground. It cannot be overstated. Children love playgrounds.
Sitting at a picnic table in the corner of the playground, exhausted, after pushing swings for 20 minutes and then participating in a rousing game of tag, I am sharing snacks and juice that my wife has brought along for us, when I spy a pretty little plant with yellow and gold flowers. I have always called it Butter-and-Eggs, but it is also known as yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris). A silly name, we all agree. Children delight in silly names. I tell them it is in the figwort family. Further hilarity.
Here it grows in a chain-link-fenced corner, inches away from heavy foot traffic. Perhaps the pandemic has allowed it to survive a more regular schedule of maintenance by the parks dept. (the playground was closed, the gates chained, for months: another heartbreaker). Or perhaps the person with the weed whacker spared the little plant because of some unspoken appreciation of its beauty, as the wielder of the scythe in Robert Frost’s poem “The Tuft of Flowers” spared the blooms:
The mower in the dew had loved them thus,
By leaving them to flourish, not for us,
Nor yet to draw one thought of ours to him.
But from sheer morning gladness at the brim.
Or perhaps it was just out of reach. It is, after all, a non-native species, a weed really, which grows by “roadsides and other waste places,” thus having no protection other than its beauty.
This time of year — late summer into early fall — features many flowering plants, including this one, along with various asters, goldenrods, lavender, and other unrecognized and unnamed species, big bees lazily fumbling in all their blossoms. They are remarkable for their persistence in this Age of the Anthropocene.
Hope is the thing with flowers.
We must hope that there will be a time past this pandemic, and past all pandemics, when children can move through the world unburdened by masks. We must hope that peace might incrementally invade our hearts and hatred be likewise expunged; that fear of others be diminished and our commonality be recognized. We must hope that our changing climate may still provide wayside blossoms — especially in the corners of playgrounds.
We must hope that the beauty of this diminished world may yet save us.