Wednesday, July 04, 2007

violets and fireflies

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Funny - even though I'm a visual artist, sometimes I'd rather write.

I was looking through my photos for something to put in the top right corner of this blog, and came across a shot of violets in a wooded area near the Thames River in London, Ontario. (I once had an English friend who howled with laughter every time I reminded him that the Canadian London had its own Thames. I guess he found that charmingly colonial.)

The photograph is nothing special, but the violets are - to me, anyhow. They're part of a magical story that suddenly seems worth spending a thousand words on...

I recently had an absolutely beautiful (and all-too-brief) e-mail relationship with a new friend. In his very first letter to me, he described seeing a valley full of fireflies near his home a few nights earlier. His story brought back a forgotten memory (of mine) from several years ago.

I was working as a live-in domestic near the university in London, Ontario. There's an area of paths along the river that had become my respite at the end of each workday. I loved being surrounded by green - wildflowers and grasses up to my knees, low-hanging branches brushing my head, and the gothic canopy high above. This was home. Sanctuary.

One evening I found myself cycling rapidly along the paths - not to enjoy the trees, but to get home after an evening at a friend's - in the shortest possible time before complete darkness fell. I'd forgotten my bicycle light (or maybe I just wasn't expecting to be out so late), and didn't want to get caught on the roads without one.

My head was bent low as I pedalled furiously, and I hardly noticed the scenery as I sped by. I didn't have time for pleasure that night.

It was getting so dark under the trees that I could hardly see, and I thought my mind was playing tricks on me when flashing lights appeared in corners of my eyes. I looked up, and nearly fell off my bike in amazement. The flashes were fireflies - hundreds and hundreds of them - dancing around a small clearing.

I stopped in shock. And awe. Something in my chest loosened, and I started to laugh with delight. In that moment I understood where the legends of fairies had come from.

For I was in a fairyland. My path cut straight through the middle of the clearing, and I was surrounded by lights that blinked on and off, continually moving all around me. I didn't want to leave - couldn't tear myself away. Fuck the bike light - I'd walk the rest of the way home if I had to.

(How often do we get to be part of a miracle?)


The following spring I was walking along a parallel path - this one unpaved and on the far edge of the clearing, closer to the river. Again my head was bent low, watching my feet avoid tree roots. For weeks I had seen green things sprouting from dead brown earth. Day after day the sprouts grew taller and taller, and thickened with leaves.

One day I was surprised by purple.

Violets! A sea of them! (I hadn't known the green sprouts were violets!)

The previous summer when I'd first seen the clearing there had been no violets (or so I thought) - just phlox, and other tall wildflowers, and masses of wild grapevines that crawled over everything. But during the winter those had all disappeared, and now the first spring green was - violets.

I knelt down to examine their delicate beauty. I knew an Italian aria about violets - the blossoms were supposed to smell lovely. I leaned over and sniffed - nothing. But their hundreds of cheerful faces smiling at sun made me laugh. Spring was here. The ground was warming. The earth was coming back to life.

And in a flash my mind made one of those poetic connections that induces shivers.

The violets would give birth to the fireflies.

1 comment:

RoSe said...

Beautiful Michelle, I felt like i was there, thanks again for sharing.