“To be a flower,” Emily Dickinson wrote in her pre-ecological poem about ecology, “is profound Accountability.”
A century later, in probably the most poetic and existentially ravishing kids’s* books of all time, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry made his hero’s central preoccupation the accountability for a single flower — the Little Prince’s beloved rose: fragile and self-concerned, ferociously hungry for love, able to such tenderness and such cruelty, so ephemeral and so cussed, a lot a miniature of the contradictory animating forces that make us human.
Within the following century, as all shops in Los Angeles had been compelled to shut on the mortal peak of a worldwide pandemic, my photographer pal Elena Dorfman made her solution to town’s final open flower market, gathered dozens of flowers, and started documenting their gradual entropic unblossoming as the times unspooled into weeks — images that turned an arresting metaphor for a mortal world abruptly fathoming its fragility and resilience in a brand new method, abruptly awake to the profound accountability of staying alive.
For so long as people have been alive and awake to our bittersweet cosmic inheritance as transient constellations of atoms able to transcendent magnificence, we’ve present in flowers fashions of ethical knowledge, emblems of freedom, nonbinary pioneers, portals to paying consideration. Over the epochs of time and thought, flowers have rivaled timber as mirrors for the which means of our human lives.
That’s what Michael Pollan explores in some pretty passages from The Botany of Want (public library) — the trendy basic that gave us the unconventional roots of the flying-witch legend and the story of how a virus made the world’s most prized flower.
In consonance with Borges’s conviction that time is the substance we’re product of, Pollan considers time because the tendril by which flowers exert their existential pull on us:
Our expertise of flowers is so deeply drenched in our sense of time. Perhaps there’s a very good motive we discover their fleetingness so piercing, can scarcely have a look at a flower in bloom with out pondering forward, whether or not in hope or remorse. We’d share with sure bugs a tropism inclining us towards flowers, however presumably bugs can have a look at a blossom with out entertaining ideas of the previous and future — sophisticated human ideas that will as soon as have been something however idle. Flowers have all the time had essential issues to show us about time.
Time, in fact, is itself a creature of paradoxes — directly the relentless ahead momentum of our mortality and the best antidote to the nervousness of aliveness. “Whenever you notice you’re mortal you additionally notice the tremendousness of the longer term,” wrote the poet, painter, and thinker Etel Adnan in her attractive meditation on impermanence and transcendence. “You fall in love with a Time you’ll by no means understand.”
It could be, Pollan intimates, that flowers betoken exactly this elemental duality and thru it solid their enchantment upon us. After contouring their astonishing evolutionary historical past — so astonishing that the baffled Darwin known as it “an abominable thriller” — he writes:
Look right into a flower, and what do you see? Into the very coronary heart of nature’s double nature — that’s, the contending energies of creation and dissolution, the spiring towards advanced kind and the tidal draw back from it. Apollo and Dionysus had been names the Greeks gave to those two faces of nature, and nowhere in nature is their contest as plain or as poignant as it’s in the fantastic thing about a flower and its speedy passing. There, the achievement of order towards all odds and its blithe abandonment. There, the perfection of artwork and the blind flux of nature. There, someway, each transcendence and necessity. Might that be it — proper there, in a flower — the which means of life?
That means, in fact, is simply what we make of life — what we make of our mortality as an inevitability of the universe that made us. “It’s the time you’ve got wasted to your rose that makes your rose so essential,” the fox says to the Little Value. “All the celebs are a-bloom with flowers,” the Little Prince says to the pilot earlier than he returns to that fathomless area of spacetime from which he had visited.
Complement with Rachel Carson on the ocean as a lens on the which means of life and Rebecca Solnit on timber and the form of time — for any fragment of nature contemplated carefully and sensitively sufficient turns into a lens on human nature and our seek for which means, as Rockwell Kent so keenly felt amid the wild Alaskan solitude, observing that nature is “a sort of residing mirror that provides again as its personal all and solely all that the creativeness… brings to it.”