Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Martian garden

A few weeks back, Pluvialis came back from a visit to her parents with a pocketful of seed packets for the garden. One lovely spring day when I was feeling typically stifled and purposeless, we went out to dig in the dirt. I've never really plunged my hands into a garden -- when I was a kid it was my dad's rather fitful preserve. After I moved out, greening my fingers was limited to trying to keep pots of herbs alive on the back steps of apartments. The herbs never lasted past their first flush of new growth, but they made me popular with the neighborhood ringtail possums. Which was almost an exchange I was prepared to make.

So I'd never really found out about the hilariously obvious, literally figurative groundedness that you get from digging around, spading up clumps of clods, troweling sods randomly around, saying hello to the worms, smoothing the soil through your fingers like making a bed for the seeds. Well, exactly like making a bed for them. Gardens are metaphor-proof.

One of the things that Pluvialis gave me to plant, in front of our giant clump of sweetpeas, were some night stocks. The stock seed is miniscule -- tiny little brown grains like chocolate-coated crystals of sand. I'd never planted seeds before in my life, and the experience was just as cheesy and trite as you'd imagine. I was completely overawed by the idea that whole plants were somehow going to appear. Wonder-of-Nature style theme music swelled in my head, the whole deal. I was convinced that there was some kind of alchemical mystery about it that I wasn't a party to, and nothing would happen.

Three days ago, the stocks flowered. Magic! If I hadn't been so overawed when I sprinkled the seeds into my lovingly prepared mixture of dirt and worms, I might have stopped to wonder why they were called night stocks. The answer, of course, is that the flowers open at night instead of during the day. The fragrance attracts moths.

When you look at a map of the sun striking the world, night has a simple geometry. It's just where it's dark, a gauzy black sine wave licking around the longitudes. But the map lies. It flattens the eerie night topology. We understood the weird metaphysics of night when we were small. We knew that it was somewhere else entirely -- it wasn't just dark, it was different. And later, you watch shadowy footage of bats and glow-worms whose adventures are narrated by David Attenborough's silken tones, and you try to imagine what it must be like to live in a world where the night is as bright and real as the day seems to us. The harder you try to do this, the more you realise that you are dealing with something truly alien. We are creatures of daylight.

Roses smell of sunshine and birds, sweetpeas of sugary peas and bread and warm rain. I planted flowers which turn their petals to the darkness and fill the air with fragrance that belongs in the glittering night-world of bats and moths. The scent is completely otherworldly. It is sweet and greenly spicy, with an oddly medicinal, slightly metallic note. It smells like science fiction.

I think this might be what it smells like to be a bat.


Heidi the Hick said...

I mean this as a compliment:

It seems appropriate that in a metaphor- free garden, Xtin can plant a flower that smells like science fiction.

(I think it would be cool to be a bat just for one night!)

Xtin said...

Heh. Good point. It has long been known that I can't scratch my own butt without using a metaphor. At least strictly speaking the one about the stocks is an analogy! Which is clutching at straws, I realise ... wait!

Is there no escape?

Hello, my name is Xtin and I am a metaphor addict.