Sunday, February 12, 2006


Friday my Father, as promised, drove us to a botanical garden. En route I noticed "Panther Crossing" signs by the highway, and placards protruding from the water of the roadside bay warning boaters of a "manatee zone."

It was clear that I was not in Massachusetts anymore. My Dad, gleefully zipping along in his Saab, announced that one's age determines one's personal speed limit. He'd just turned eighty. I white-knuckled it in the back seat. I'd just turned fifty four miles per hour. Didn't Saab start out making jet engines ? Had they installed one by accident in my Dad's car ?

After the obligatory tourist picture of my parents as wild game hunters, we set out through the park. My eyes, calibrated by New England end-of-winter earth tones, were dazzled. Every parameter -- white balance, saturation, contrast -- would have to be reset. Photographers use an 18% "gray card" to calibrate exposure. That wouldn't do at all. I'd clearly have to find something else.

This parrot would suffice.

I hadn't seen purple like ths since the vetch disappeared last fall,

or bees for months and months,

or a botanical apparatus as brilliant and complex as this bird of paradise's, ever,

Could this be a pastel cousin of the somber hawthorns by the Charles River ?

Have I ever seen such a duskily gorgeous anther and filament ?

This is, I think, a banana flower. There's nothing like it in the woods back home.

But this stalk of little lipped blossoms reminded me of helleborine or gill-over-the ground.

And succulents. Are there succulents In New England ? Does skunk cabbage count ?

One thing's for certain: this is a southern cousin of milkweed. It has to be. Amazing to see the subtle pink and white peg-like flowers rendered in blazing orange and yellow !

But nothing in the woods I know is as beautifully thatched as this breastplate-like palm.

And, as if the pink were not enough, this elaborate flower has little purple tongues....

Some kind of reed ? I ventured, thinking of phragmites.

Papyrus, my Mother said, reading from a low placard.

Coconuts ! crowed my Dad, pointing up a palm.

We, all three of us, were enraptured by the exotic plants.

I made sure to learn the name of this one: Mexican cardboard plant.

Finally, I'd reset my eyes. All four of them.

How would I ever face the end-of-winter, trash strewn riverbanks of Massachusetts ?

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