By Toukta Wongse-ont
As I unloaded my flowers onto the conveyer belt at the register, from the overhead speakers came the sound of a chiming acoustic guitar, and from that a soothing voice emerged, singing:
It’s been a long, cold, lonely winter
It feels like years since it’s been here
I sliced several lemons and limes and added them to a clear container, with water. I put it in the fridge, overnight. It was cold, yet strong and bitter like the Zen tea I tasted last week. But this time, the flowers that I arranged above it would counteract the tartness and acidity of the citruses. Provide balance. A sunflower stood out, with a dark center disk, surrounded by bright yellow petals. The dark center reminded me of an eclipse. My father’s death had eclipsed my life with a wintry darkness and cold like the people in Sarah Orne Jewett’s novel The Country of the Pointed Firs. They were consumed by grief. They did not sing like “the song sparrows sang and sang, as if with joyous knowledge of immortality, and contempt for those who could so pettily concern themselves with death.” Instead, often I would “sigh/From too much dwelling on what has been” as Robert Frost writes in “The Need of Being Versed in Country Things.” In contrast, I needed to know a secret: To be versed in country things, one needs to be like a bird that not only flew in “At broken windows” but also “flew out” (Frost).
The smiles returning to the faces
It seems like years since it’s been here
I surrounded the sunflower–the eclipse–with white, like my pa, who was the “light” of my life. He brought many smiles to me, and I was his “little darling.” I chose white daisies, daisy mums, lilies, fluffy mums, and a white spider mum. After, I pushed in green button poms and lush ferns for contrast. The green was serene. Then I added stems of smaller sunflowers with yellow/green centers. The yellow spider mum had petals that jutted out in spikes. Golden poms, and yellow daisies dotted the bouquet with a sunlit glow. I even placed a small, toy duckling next to the bouquet, along with limes and a lemon.
The Beatles, ‘Here Comes the Sun’
After I made the bouquet, I looked at the sunflower with the dark, center disk. “The eclipse” no longer stood out and I saw through the phoebes’ eyes “Yet for them the lilac renewed its leaf / And the aged elm, though touched with fire.” My father and I had argued before he left the country for treatments. His condition worsened, and Pa died. I never got to tell him goodbye, never said that I was sorry we argued, never told him I loved him. I can relate to Mrs. Todd, a character in Pointed Firs, when she states, “But he loved me well, and he made me real happy, and he died before he ever knew what he’d had to know if we’d lived long together.” But that is not what someone versed in country things would say. In reality, I know my father loved me very much, and he would not want me to be like Joana, another character in Jewett’s novel who gave up so much and “acted just like a bird [whose] nest is spoilt.” Rather, my father would want me to be like the birds in Frost’s poem:
For them there was really nothing sad.
But though they rejoiced in the nest they kept,
One had to be versed in country things
Not to believe the phoebes wept.
I see the ice is slowly melting
It seems like years since it’s been clear.
Someone once told me that I should get rid of my fear of writing. He also told me that he had new basics, a new vision, new direction, new determination, and a new decision-making standard. He had faith that would guide him through life. This person has helped to clear the ice, which is still slowly melting from my heart. I have learned a lot from him as I have from everyone in the class. So often, it is easy to get caught up in the “ailments” of the past, in tragedies, and in pain just as the people in The Country of the Pointed Firs. We are human. But sometimes one can forget how unnatural that can get, and a balanced view from beyond ourselves–the one Frost expresses in “The Need of Being Versed in Country Things”–is what we need to heal.
“The moon, a black disc in the sky, began to slide away from the sun.”
Something wonderful happened the quarter I took nature writing: “A ray of sunlight blazed from the other side of the shadow and daylight returned as dawn.”
The eclipse on my heart slid away and “the house had gone to bring again/To the midnight sky a sunset glow” (Frost).
Here comes the sun, doo-doo-doo-doo
Here comes the sun, and I say
It’s all right.
From Nature Writing, June 27, 2013. Reprinted with author’s permissio