Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Time Of Gardenias

Maybe it was my Catholic background, where I learned the rhythm of the year's liturgical seasons, each with its own emphasis and celebration color, or maybe it was growing up in the shadow of the Sierra, where seasons keep time like a diligent clock; whatever the cause, I relish the ebb and flow of Earth's changes.

Even when exiled to live near the California coast, where the only hints of seasonal change were the shifting light, bright grasses and a few rebellious trees turning gold, I watched and waited for that light, for the greening of hills in spring, the sparse glowing leaves of fall, and the settling of my garden into winter's brief sleep.

Here in Northern California we enjoy distinct seasons, even though they don't pummel us into submission as in other parts of the country. A hard freeze last winter murdered my geraniums, and last summer's heat wave taught me to cherish my air conditioner, but you don't often hear complaints about our weather, especially from green growing things.

Now is the time of gardenias, flourishing in these long, warm days, suffusing the air with their sweet, dizzying scent. I yearn to capture with my camera every curl of dark leaf, every pearly blossom, and as I type this, my room is perfumed by eleven of them, liberated last night from the garden of a house standing empty. I could not resist the temptation one more minute.

Now is the time of fledgling birds at last taking flight. This year's crop of scrub jays, bribed into my backyard with peanuts, use the airspace for their screeching high-speed training maneuvers. Next door, in the ancient oak, a mockingbird more predictable than any rooster begins its 20-hour song long before dawn. Other mockingbirds sing background music to my evening walks, block by block, accompanied by staccato chattering of giant blue, white and black magpies, all conspiring against summer silence.

Now is the time that raptors soar high overhead on hot afternoon thermals. A frantic Swainson's hawk, searching in vain for field mice decimated by nearby development, has taken to raiding flocks of birds, even pigeons and doves -- I find his disturbing leftovers in the oddest places. There are more owls at dusk this summer than ever before, probably hungry for the same missing mice, (or possibly honoring the Harry Potter book due out soon... who knows?)

Now is the time of the roses' second bloom. These are not as plentiful, not as jubilant, not as enduring as the first flowers of Easter, nor are they as foolish as those that will brave the hot August sun, but still they stand, fragrant and beautiful. Vigilant, persistent gardeners will decorate Thanksgiving tables with their roses; mine will rest in the fall.

Now is the time for hydrangeas, glowing in shadows away from the sun... the time for tall agapanthus and oleanders, for lush hedges of jasmine and honeysuckle, thoughtfully planted by landscape designers. Now is the time for the first frilly blooms of crape myrtles that will last throughout summer...the time for the delicate, deceptive fronds of the butterfly gauras, and for mysterious trees with long, caterpillar tongues whose fragrance hovers in clouds over the street.

Now is the time that sunsets, streaked in shades of tangerine through deep amethyst, blaze so glorious they're almost cliche.

At every seasonal transformation I decide this season is my favorite. Each has its own beauty and unique link to the everlasting cycle of nature and time...and now is the time of gardenias.

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