Every morning, as I leave my house in an April that is already pretty busy — a gathering whirl of anger over new threats to academic freedom, two conferences in two weeks (the East Coast Tour – Chapel Hill, New Haven, and home), student stories to be graded, et cetera — my glance falls into the corner of my porch, where there’s a little bit of life that will never be.
Two years ago now, I brought my late grandmother’s dining room furniture into my own house, eleven hundred miles north. This packet — doubtless handed on from some friend or other relative — was in one of the drawers, just unearthed when I was looking for something else this winter. There’s no date on the packet. No telling how long it’s been there. But optimistically, I planted and watered the seeds anyway. Needless to say, they didn’t come up. The still-barren pot, with a handmade label and a hopeful date, January planting in a sunny window — is sitting, now, in the corner of my porch. I see it every day.
Before her death my grandmother and I had several conversations about using what we have. “Don’t be like me,” she said ruefully, “always saving my pretty things for ‘someday.'” I think of those words every time I use her elegant flower-patterned china to feed my friends on food from my own garden, or sit at her table to snatch some morning oatmeal and yogurt before I hurry off to school. She stuck these seeds in that buffet drawer years ago, thinking someday she’d get around to planting them. And now their little nutrient packets are expired; I can water and hope, but I doubt I’ll be able to revive them.
That’s part of the reason why, despite the press of things to do, I spent an hour or two this weekend planting seeds for poppies in my yard, as soon as I could get them. Famously finicky, sometimes poppies take and sometimes they don’t. But when the world is coming alive again in wind and water and sun — and the Decorah Eagle Cam shows new chicks in their nest above the fish hatchery, two miles or so from my house — we need hopeful gestures, and we need not to be people who put things off till later. It is so easy to stockpile or save something because it is “too good to use now” or you “don’t have time for it now.” But when we have such chances at beauty, at a pleasure that requires a relatively small outlay of effort and time, we need to take them — no matter what.