Several summers ago we got some evening primroses to put in our garden. In a sense, they are the opposite of morning glories. Morning glories bloom at first light, and evening primroses bloom just as the sun sets. I have never been awake early enough to see a morning glory bloom, but that first summer, having heard about them, I wanted to see an evening primrose in action.
That first night we went outside and crouched down in front of the primrose patch until our legs fell asleep. Then we knelt until our knees hurt. After awhile we were laying down, stretched out on our stomachs, with our chins propped up on our hands. The grass was cool and fresh, staining our elbows and knees and the toes of our tennis shoes as our legs kicked back in forth like the second hand of a clock, marking the passage of time.
Not knowing what we were looking for, but knowing what we wanted to see, we stared and we stared and we stared.
Every little movement brought a flurry of conversation. "It moved! Did you see that? I think it's about to open? Do you think it was the wind?" It was boring and fascinating and utterly spellbinding all at the same time. I think all of us wanted to go back inside, but none of us dared. We didn't want to miss it. After an hour had passed, we all figured we had invested too much time to leave. So we watched some more.
Without knowing any technical jargon, the flower petals are held tightly by some small thin leaves. As the petals begin to relax and loosen from their tightly coiled beginnings, these small thin leaves begin to split slowly from bottom to top. When all the leaves have come apart, the flower springs open, much like you might see if you were watching time-lapsed photography.
As we watched these plants it was amazing to see them move and twist, without benefit of wind or animal or human intervention. It was one of those moments that physically confirmed an intellectual fact. Yes, a plant is a living object, but here was an opportunity to see it live? Everyone knows seeing is believing, but I have to tell you, it's a little spooky when you're talking about a plant.
And yes, there were copious "Feed me, Seymour" lines tossed around for good measure.
When the first blossom sprung open, we practically jumped with surprise (a bit difficult when you're laying on your stomach), and then oohed and ahhed as if it were a magic trick. Then we watched the next one and the next one and the one after that. It wasn't until the last bud bloomed that evening that we picked ourselves up, brushed off the grass and started itching the 97 mosquito bites we acquired that evening. But they were worth it. Every single one.
Evening primrose watching became a nightly ritual. When people came over to the house we'd drag them outside, saying "You have to see these flowers!" We explained how they opened. We showed them move without the wind. We came armed with bug spray and lawn chairs for our guests and we sat outside in the warm summer evenings staring at the garden bed as if it were a drive-in movie screen.
Over the years we've gotten better at timing the evening primroses so we only need to stay outside 5-10 minutes before they burst into a beautiful (if brief) existence outside their green bars. But I'll never forget that first summer of waiting and wonderment.
To know that something is going to happen, and yet not know how it might or what it might look like, or when it might be or why it even happens can both frustrating and exciting. For myself, I'm declaring 2008 to be My Year of the Primrose. I don't know what exactly I'm looking for, or when or how it will happen, but this year is for me. And you can be darn sure that I'll be watching and waiting -- probably bored at times, but still excited -- for that magic to happen. It's all inside of me. It's time to set me free.