The weather is delightful here in the Northeast. The earth is alive with the colors, the textures and the fragrance of spring. Among the flowers at their peak this week—the iris. One brilliant morning, my wife and I took a break from the hundred little things (and some big ones) that preoccupy our lives and visited the Essex County Presby Memorial Iris Garden in Montclair, NJ. It was one of the first places we visited when we were first dating, more than two decades ago. And upon our return, we were again treated to an amazing array of flowers in all their majestic variety and splendor.
Named after the Greek goddess of the rainbow, the iris has the broadest color range of any floral species. When several varieties grow together, the spectral masterpiece they create can be overwhelming. Upon close examination of the intricate detail in each flower, one can find a symbol for the interrelatedness of the created world and—without much of a leap—better understand what wonders might exist for us if we also lived in harmony with one another.
The flowers themselves expand from a narrow base, called the claw or haft, into a broader portion—the limb or base—that can be adorned with elaborate veins, lines or dots. In the center of the blade, some irises have a “beard”, a row of fuzzy hairs at their base which gives pollinators a landing place and guides them to the flower’s nectar. As such, the iris serves as an example of the relationship between flowering plants and pollinating insects—again, symbolic of the interrelatedness of our created world.
The regenerative power of these seemingly fragile (but actually hardy) flowers that annually push through winter snows and frost, offer a brilliant sign of hope that chases away the gloom and despair of the winters in our lives.
The morning offered up a feast for the eyes (and nose), as light played on the colors and sweet scents wafted over the warming breeze. Indeed, I thought, all over the northern hemisphere spring has burst forth in triumph over winter’s retreat. I am reminded of the words of the poet e.e. cummings: “sweet spring is your/time is my time is our/time for springtime is lovetime/and viva sweet love”
But not everywhere.
Juxtaposed to the promise of nature’s goodness as reflected in the abundance of color and light we encountered at the Presby Gardens, we simultaneously witnessed scenes of death and destruction in the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut. There, the city has literally been razed to the ground in Vladimir Putin’s barbaric onslaught. Yes, flowers still bloom in Ukraine, but colorful vistas are interrupted by endless scenes of carnage—cratered dwellings and horrifying remains of lives forever altered by this senseless evil.
The split screen image of serenity in that New Jersey Memorial Garden with the utter devastation experienced by the people in Bakhmut illustrates both the radiance of what spring can represent and our ability to quickly turn beauty into ugliness and death. On one hand lies the hopeful promise that spring has come again in all its glory; on the other hand, we see the horrific images of what we have done to creation’s goodness and to the people who inhabit our planet.
Until we have the wisdom, the sensitivity, and the courage to restore balance to this equation, no matter how beautiful, how intricate, how abundant the irises and dogwoods, the rhododendron and the budding sunflowers of spring might be, the world will still not be a beautiful place.