Poppy

Christine sent me a text message today with a photo of a poppy. “Remembrance Day poppy. Worn by Canadians for the two weeks leading up to November 11,” she wrote.

PoppyWhen Trent told her they wore them for two weeks, she tells me she replied, “You guys are serious about this.”

Canada poured a lot into World War I. Five years of war. Five years of volunteers. And an ocean separating those at home from the battles themselves. Canada itself was not in particular danger during the war, but she knew the stakes.

I stood in a Canadian WWI cemetery in France in the summer of 1998. We’d spent much of our time on that trip exploring the history of the end of the Second World War—we’d seen the Normandy beaches, the American Cemetery with its white marble crosses—but that day it was the Canadians who drew our attention.

I walked through the brick arches and down the steps to the lines of graves, and, looking over them, I whispered familiar words:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
                   –John McCrae

Seven years later I was driving to work on November 11, and at an intersection an elderly man was walking between the cars, passing out poppies. He dropped one on the ground, and as he reached down to pick it up, the light changed and the driver of the car in front of me impatiently scooted around him to go through.

The man straightened, holding the little red flower. I pulled my car forward, rolled my window down and reached out for it, smiling at him. He smiled back and gave me the tiny scrap of wire and cloth in his hand, now mine to hold high.

***

It seems remarkably fitting that I ended this month of posts with one about Remembrance Day. Sights bring memories, but only if we tell their story will the memories remain for the next generation. Let us not forget—neither our joys or the sacrifices and sorrows of those who have given us the chance to see and remember.

Seasons

I drove into the North Carolina mountains today and watched the beginning of autumn as I did so. Green maples tipped with red, birches shading to gold. The speckles of the light shining through the green canopy. Here and there and evergreen staying strong, Remaining what it was. Forever.

Seasons

When I was in college, we took a trip to the Poconos to go camping. It was April and we left after watching the storm roll in across from the west it shined everything new and in the glowingly sunset, We took off glad the rain had it say.

As we drove up the highway I watched the greens in the woods. Penn’s woods. It was the bright green of spring, the pale color of green tea. In the spring, the tulip trees have leaves smaller than my palm, but I knew that in the summer those leaves would grow to be bigger than my hand. In the spring, you can pop a tulip tree leaf, capturing pocket of air smacking it through the membrane, crack. But tulip tree leaves in the summer are far too strong for such things. Far too green.

I think of the black spruce in Alaska, those “evergreens.” Except most of the year they don’t seem green at all. Against the contrast of the white snow they fully live up to their name and the monochromatic winter is halted only by the sky. But in the fall they are evergreen. Against the bright golden yellow of the aspen trees, all the highlights of the needles come forth and for a glorious two weeks—a season—you see the contrast of the green and the gold and the blue and the brown.

I’ll take the seasons. I’ll enjoy the speckles of gold in the green of the trees. The flash red here in there as autumn begins to take its hold. I’ll glory in the sight of the sky through the canopy of the woods in the deep of the winter when the branches are bare. I’ll revel in the pale green spring—the flowers, the brightness. And summer, even summer I’ll take. I hope it will be like Michigan in June. Though in North Carolina I’m more likely to get the heat of a southern August. Even so I’ll take summer because its presence reminds me of all the other seasons that I will get to see.

After all, I live in a place where there are seasons.

 

Flowers in October

I’ve been smelling it for over a week now. I took a trip out to my car to get a phone charger the other day and I found myself slowing my pace just so that I could spend more time breathing in the scent. And I couldn’t figure out what it was.

October’s been glorious in Charlotte. I’ve put in a request to God that it be October in Charlotte all the time. I was beginning to think that the scent was just the smell of October.

Holly flowers 2Until last Thursday. I pulled into my typical parking spot and turned off the car, waiting a moment to hear the tail end of the news story that was playing before I opened the door. Listening, I gazed out the windshield before me and noticed small, white flowers on a branch of the holly bush directly in front of me.

That entire side of the parking lot is a holly hedge, a barrier between our property and the park next door. It runs the entire length of the property—I’ve never seen that much holly in one place.

So even if I did know that it bloomed (which, well, makes sense, since it has berries), and bloomed in the autumn (which also makes sense, since the berries show in the winter), I don’t know that I’ve ever been near enough of it at once to smell the blossoms.

The scent is light, airy—sweet, but not syrupy. It’s the bright floral of a jasmine flower or a lily of the valley, not the heavy floral of a plumeria.

And in the scent I’m taken back to the streets of Manila with children knocking at our car windows every time we stopped at a light to try and sell us chains of dried sampaguita to hang on our rearview mirror. I’m standing by the side of my parents’ home in Michigan on a May day, drinking in the lily of the valley, picking them to take inside to put in a vase, and thinking that the only thing wrong with lily of the valley is the fact that they don’t bloom a few weeks later to coincide with the early roses.

I can’t walk down a detergent aisle without sneezing and I’ve taken to washing my clothes with fragrance free detergent because I can’t get them on without a fit of coughing otherwise, but God made a few floral scents I can enjoy, and I shall walk slowly through the parking lot every day until the blossoms are gone from the holly hedge. And when they are, I’ll remember them fondly, waiting for next October to see them again.