It’s been hard to find much optimism lately. I prefer writing about the micro, not the macro, so I’m not going to enumerate all the reasons here as if you don’t already know that the big picture is not looking awesome right now. The problem for me is, when I try to focus in on my own little picture, which while lacking in places is certainly an improvement over the current big picture, I am only reminded of its precariousness, its dependence on the world and the universe surrounding it to miraculously manage to work out right. I hate precariousness. I do not like the “appreciate the moment you’ve got, because you might be obliterated by an asteroid in five minutes” brand of mindfulness. Sure, it may be true, but is it really helpful? It does not make me feel “gratitude.” It makes me feel like giving up.
The kind of mindfulness that stubbornly maintains hope for a future decent enough that one still cares about aesthetic frivolities is the kind that I prefer. The kind where you engage in an activity whose (preferably impractical) results may not be enjoyed for hours, or weeks, or months, or years. Things like needlepoint, or overly fancy baking. The sort of thing that matters not at all once the asteroid is in sight. I am not in a season of life where I have the motivation to engage in anything of this category that might be considered complex. So blown away by the birth of my twins was I that, three years later, the baby quilt top I made while pregnant still sits on my dresser waiting to be quilted. For a while in my twenties I canned silly things like wine jelly and purple green beans I grew in the yard, but the combination of boiling water, high pressure gadgets, and small children is a too stressful for me to manage right now. Gardening is also mostly out of the question, since small garden helpers tend to get bored and wander off, and then you have to find them and lure them inside with a popsicle. But flower bulb-planting is frivolous garden activity that is both gratifying and doable for those who through whatever circumstances are lacking in an attention span. Bulbs don’t cost a lot, so you can buy a bunch. You pick a spot that’s not frustratingly rocky, you dig a hole that is never quite as deep as is recommended, you plop a bulb in anyway, you cover it up, and there’s a good chance that six months later you’ll be greeted by a flower that you pretty much had nothing to do with, but still feel as if you had everything to do with. It’s sort of like having kids, but with way less complicated results, and, I maintain, is one of the cheapest expressions of hope around.
The only problem seems to be that some years, the existence of the bulbs is just as precarious as everything else. The tulips I planted in the fall of 2020 were pillaged by raccoons pretty much as soon as they were in the ground. I believe two survived and managed to sprout in the spring, only for their buds to be promptly munched by deer. When I threw zinnia seeds down in the same bed, hoping I’d have at least a bloom or two to show for the year, one of our cats decided to start using it as a litter box, digging up any sprouts that dared show up. That year was like that. Sometimes hope doesn’t really yield results.
But this year my tulips have come through. I had to work harder for them than I cared to—planting them deeper, putting netting over the entire bed to keep the critters out—but it paid off. Their colors—purples and oranges, mainly–are bright and clashing, and the mix as a whole is sort of gaudy—a mess of double blooms and parrot tulips and fringed petals, like mismatched costumes in a 1920s burlesque show. I hardly see the point of a subdued tulip—I prefer to pick a strange mix and be surprised by my own fantastically bad taste when they bloom. It is nice to be surprised by something so unfailingly optimistic as a flower, to see that sometimes planning for the future actually results in something, that sometimes life does go on, that sometimes all you need is just a little extra care to thrive. And though it is true that the deer could still munch every one of their pretty heads off tonight, when I look at the tulips in their glory I refuse to accept the moment as an ephemeral one. What I stubbornly do instead is admire the display, pick a few to put in a vase, and decide that I’m going to go ahead and order fifty bulbs for next year—red, yellow and pink this time. Pink is not my color, so my future self is sure to be delightedly shocked by the show—one that I’m determinedly sure that we’ll all show up for.