I never thought much of flowers when I was a boy. Other than the occasional enhanced interrogation of a daisy for the purposes of gathering romantic intelligence, I had no real use for them. It wasn’t that I actively disliked them, but rather that I simply couldn’t figure out what on earth they were good for. I had a lot of time for their big brothers, trees, but with the best will in the world, it just isn’t that easy to climb a daffodil.
Adults often told me that flowers were breathtakingly beautiful or overwhelmingly exquisite, but when I looked intently at, say, a buttercup—my head cocked to one side and my finger on my chin—my own personal level of whelming never got anywhere near over. Flowers looked okay, but throughout my childhood, I was seldom moved emotionally by anything unless it was served with ice cream or covered in a chocolate coating.
As far as I could see, flowers were little more than petal-laden bribes to insects, and I couldn’t help noticing I wasn’t an insect. Unsurprisingly, I was more excited by bribes aimed directly at my own species, such as strawberries, raspberries or blackberries.
Indifferent as I was to the blooms themselves, however, I was much more enthusiastic about the types of place where flowers were often found. A grassy expanse covered in buttercups and clover, for example, was a thrilling place to run around with a jam jar and try to catch bees, butterflies or hoverflies. Riverbanks and the margins of ponds were even better. Yes, there were flowers to be found there, but I preferred poking around among the stems trying to coax froglets to jump into my hands.
Flower-strewn hedgerows were another place where all sorts of wonderful things could be found—hairy caterpillars, snails, and spiders, to name but a few. The creatures in all these environments were endlessly fascinating. Slugs moved around on slime—how cool was that! Toads caught things with their tongues. Spiders could construct amazing webs. But all the time in the background were flowers, seemingly not doing anything beyond grinning inanely.
When I entered adulthood, I realized flowers did have uses after all. Women seemed to be particularly fond of them for some odd reason, so they became a convenient and easily purchased token of affection for any female member of my immediate circle. As I got a little more sophisticated in their use, it became clear that blooms could even convey messages. In other words, I could say it with flowers, as the slogan goes. A bouquet of golden peonies, pink roses, poppies, dahlias, and maiden-hair fern, for example, said, “Congratulations on your wedding!” Three tired looking tulips in a plastic bag said, “I remembered it was your birthday seconds before the supermarket closed.” And of course, the messages could go both ways. Nothing said, “Don’t forget next year!” like a tulip stem rammed up a nostril.
As I’ve become older, I’ve gradually begun to appreciate flowers for themselves rather than as a kind of glorified email for use on special occasions. In part, this is because I’ve now lived in the city for many decades. Indeed, since I’m in an apartment building, I don’t even have a garden. As is so often the case in life, I didn’t appreciate what I had until I no longer had it. My wife and children, on the other hand, grew up in the city, so do not feel the loss of connection to the natural world in quite the same way. The only real knowledge my children have of flowers is through playing a video game called Plants Versus Zombies. I don’t have the heart to tell them that real gardening is rather different. For one thing, it doesn’t usually involve bazookas.
Another reason why my attitude has changed is probably as a side-effect of middle age. No longer able to keep pace with caterpillars and slugs, I have had to settle instead for any parts of the natural world that still move more slowly than I do. On those occasions when I am able to make it to a park, I’m relieved to find I still retain sufficient speed and agility to catch up with clumps of flowers before a change of season withers their blooms.
But perhaps the biggest single change of all has been my slow but steady development of greater appreciation for shades and contrasts, hues and color tones. There may be all sorts of possible explanations for this phenomenon, but my own best guess is that this is yet another response to the passing years. Now that my hands have the sensitivity of boxing gloves and my range of hearing has restricted to the point where I can just about catch an air raid siren approximately three inches from my head, I’m fast running out of sensory options.
© Bun Karyudo and the BunKaryudo Blog (2016)
(All Rights Reserved)
NOTE: Today’s post is a slightly rewritten and expanded version of one that has already appeared on my blog. My apologies to those who have seen parts of it before, although it was from the very early days, so I don’t think there will be many of you! I’d have preferred to write something from scratch, but there was just no time, so I thought a half-new post was probably better than no post at all.