Suszynski: Siberian irises |

Suszynski: Siberian irises

I like to think of spring as an inheritance. On the very first day of April, four crocuses pushed through the newly thawed ground in the yard. I am sure there will be more tomorrow. These crocuses are an inheritance that doesn’t ask for anything, an inheritance that is short lived, an inheritance that gives way to new and different life as summer claws its hot way into spring mornings.

And quite literally, in my parents’ backyard, we also have many small plots of inheritance in the form of Siberian irises. My family was gifted these flowers by my grandfather. Every April, I begin asking after them. Have they bloomed? Can you see the light green stalks yet?

Every spring, these flowers make me think of “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The singular image that has stuck with me over the years is of little Mary Quite Contrary first finding the secret garden and instinctively clearing a space for a bulb, newly coming to life, to breathe. As a little kid, I used to look for small plants buried in pine needles and clear moats of dirt around them. My mom often pointed out that I wasn’t actually helping, I was just making it easier for the weeds to grow. I evidently didn’t have a knack for picking out the flowers.

After rereading “The Secret Garden” outside as the Stellar jay hopped between the aspen branches above me, I thought about the similarities. Mary, the main character, is forced to leave colonial India in the beginning of the book because cholera has ravaged her city. She moves to England just as spring is pushing through the ground, where her uncle lives in a big, empty house.

In one of her first mornings wandering around the grounds, Mary comes upon a robin: “She stopped and listened to him and somehow his cheerful, friendly little whistle gave her a pleasing feeling — even a disagreeable little girl may be lonely, and the big closed house and big bare moor and big bare gardens had made this one feel as if there was no one left in the world but herself.”

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I love the winter here in the mountains, but when spring arrives, I feel as if I am emerging from a slumber. This year especially, when the winter called for vigilance and small friend pods, I am more than ready to move on from being “contrary.”

This book is special because you begin to see Mary’s emergence once she realizes that running around outside and breathing the air of the moor makes her hungry. For a girl that picked at her food, and for a girl that didn’t see much past making the lives around her more difficult since she herself found her own life difficult, hunger is the best anecdote.

One day, the robin leads Mary to the secret garden, and she begins her own growth alongside the flowers: “Mary was an odd, determined little person, and now she had something interesting to be determined about, she was very much absorbed, indeed. She worked and dug and pulled up weeds steadily, only becoming more pleased with her work every hour instead of tiring of it.”

It’s difficult not to feel hopeful when things are growing. It reminds me that time does not always pass just to age our surroundings, time also passes to give life to bulbs buried under winter. Or to leaves shrunk back into crisp shrivels. Dead leaves fall, and new shoots grasp for air. This happens to people, too, this happens to communities, this happens to the larger world. It is not always an immediate change, even if the crocuses are here this morning, I have to wait for the irises until June.

Mary eventually meets a young boy secreted away in the recesses of the house. He turns out to be her cousin, Colin, who is ill in spirit and therefore ill in body. They have a lot in common. Colin is also not the most pleasant to be around at first, but he soon opens up to Mary’s stories and they become friends. Eventually Mary, with the help of her friend Dickon, takes Colin in his wheelchair to the secret garden and he begins his recuperation. In the end of the book, he makes a touching speech to his new friends: “I have never seen the sun rise but Mary and Dickon have and from what they tell me I am sure that it is Magic too. Something pushes it up and draws it. Sometimes since I’ve been in the garden I’ve looked up through the trees at the sky and I have had a strange feeling of being happy as if something were pushing and drawing in my chest and making me breathe fast.”

My great grandfather ran a nursery in New York after he made his way from Poland. Those Siberian irises in my parent’s backyard came from that nursery, first from New York, then to my grandfather’s home in Maryland, then to my parents’ first home in Chicago, and finally to Colorado.

My mom tells me, as she always does, that there is no stirring yet. The irises are still packed in their bulbs waiting for the right moment to rise. It’s a steady and deliberate process, one that I admire. One that requires patience, vigilance and plenty of space to breathe.

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