“Solomon in all his Glory was not arrayed as one of these.”
A world of possibilities pulsates beneath the skin of the sun-ripened peach. A soft fuzz covers the surface of the skin—a fact itself hinting at this fruit’s separation from the mass-produced, untimely picked Produce of the agribusinesses that spent the last quarter of the 20th Century gobbling up family farms and shitting out the bland and tasteless table fare we must smother in spices or chemicals for flavor enough to fool our digestion into working.
Peach fuzz. A world of possibilities.
When I was a boy that’s what they called the soft and translucent vellus hairs before puberty coarsened them, and darkened them, and society persuaded us they were ugly and tempted us to scrape them off with bits of sharpened steel. You will not surely die …
At first bite my incisors pierce the skin and warm, sweet nectar gushes over my lips, my tongue, my beard, my chinny-chin-chin. This is a piece of fruit never crammed inside a refrigerator. I close my eyes, shutting off the verdant visual stimulation outside. Every other sense focuses on the flavor. The faint wisps of ripe fruity pheromones brushing past olfactory. The whispered pop of skin yielding to the bite. The soft cilia sweeping my fingerprints, flooded by wet and sticky trickles running rivulets down my fingers, palm, wrist. Sweet. Juicy. Succulent. There is something Primal about the eating. We, as a species, were gatherers even before we were hunters, picking fruits we found where they grew, devouring them ripe and raw and bursting with flavor and nutrients.
The nectar glistens sticky sweet on my lips.
You will not surely die …
There’s a generation of American men who came of age in the 1970s who nods knowingly about death and peaches. Eat a Peach. Allman Brothers. We clutched the album cover, forlorn stares at the cover graphic peach truck, hushed whispers how Duane died slamming his bike into a peach truck on some lonely Georgia night. It wasn’t true, but we believed with fervor. Gregg claimed it referenced his quote about eating a peach for peace. More likely it’s slang for cunnilingus.
I dig you Georgia Peaches; you make me feel right at home …
A screaming-red pit lies in my hand, bits of juicy pulp still clinging to its wrinkled surface, strands of peach viscera flopping on my flesh like plantastick tendons on skeletal remains. I have devoured this offering of Gaea like the ravenous beast I am inside my veneer of civis.
It was … delicious.
Peaches remind every other American of Georgia—and the state spends a bundle encouraging that—though most peaches sold in American groceries come from China. There is a bitter irony about earth’s most voracious state capitalists calling themselves a People’s Republic. Mao must be spinning somewhere.
Peaches remind us. Peaches reminds us.
Peaches was a pantry chef in a Club where I served. She was a pretty young African-American woman about my own age. She wore mirth on her lips and a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. Today youths would call her thick and mean it as a high compliment. We were both much younger, then. Peaches reminds us our arms ain’t broke and we can make our own damn coffee.
My peach gone, I wash the stickiness from my hand. I fill a cup with fresh-brewed coffee. I stand at my back window like Myrtle the Turtle. My yard is modest, and this year I am allowing it … a bit of leeway. I’m calling it Mark Park.
I’m allowing the sights and sounds of nature to be my Birnam Wood. Perhaps it is not to your taste. Perhaps you find it too rambunctious. I admit it’s Wild. I prefer to think of it as Natural.
This is what I love. This gives me peace and renewal. I could stand for hours at my window, sipping coffee, gazing at my micro-slice of Eden.
I never appreciated the American propensity for lawns that look like golf course fairways. These immaculately-coiffed landscapes seem pale reflections of the grounds at Versailles or countless English manors.
I suspect there is an aspect of dominion over nature involved in molding it to our will: shaping trees and shrubs and flowers and grasses into some form of conformist bourgeois landscaping.
Since I chose to live in a city, suburb, small town, something—a pocket of dwellings squoze between patchwork farms and sterile business parks—I give a nod to their silly rules and keep my front and side yards reasonably shorn.
But my backyard is hemmed between two fenced yards and two rental properties. It is not visible from the street. I’m not bothering anyone. I provide sanctuary to creatures fleeing suburban sprawl. A home for the fleas. A hive for the buzzing bees. A nest for the birds …
Sorry. Got carried away.
What I call Mark Park flourishes beneath the vast aegis of the old maple dominating my yard. The tree is off the southwest corner of the house. I am certain it was here first. Nymph, in thy orisons be all my sins remembered.
In summertime the boughs shade my entire yard and the south face of the roof. I take that cooling shadow as a blessing. A dome of leaves cradles my patio, which is little more than a slab of concrete poured behind the back stoop, but it is a relaxing place to hear the songbird aria presented daily. Shows at 6 and 11.
An L-shaped bed wraps around the patio’s northwest corner. Until this year there was a thin strip of “lawn” between the edge of the bed and the concrete patio. I ran my mower over that path every time I cut the grass, kicking dust and twigs and stones to the winds.
The original flower bed was actually two, each some six foot long and 18” wide. One ran parallel to the north edge of the patio and held two butterfly bushes. One bloomed yellow, the other purple.
I don’t remember ever being aware of butterfly bushes before I moved to western Missouri. They must have been around. But if I noticed them my brain must have said plant and if they were blooming it said pretty flowers. A friend of mine from high school became a self-taught horticulturalist and Tim could identify genus and species at a glance.
The butterfly bush is Buddleja americana.
Carl von Linné, father of Taxonomy, the man who started dividing everything into neat categories from Kingdom down to species and christening them in Latin, named this species after Adam Buddle. Buddle, vicar of an Essex church and hobby botanist, was a prolific cataloger of English flora. He never saw a butterfly bush. Scots botanist William Houston brought the plant to Europe from the Caribbean in 1730, more than a dozen years after his colleague’s death. He might have claimed naming rights for the species. He chose to honor the Church of England clergyman.
The new Dean of the Episcopal Cathedral in Kansas City told me in the Pacific Northwest, whence he comes to us, they consider Buddleja a weed and spend money eradicating it. I understand it’s an invasive species. That means when it gets a foothold it takes over. Funny. I twice spent money replacing mine after frost.
Weed is a subjective term, anyway. A weed is any plant growing where some human doesn’t want it. American homeowners spend billions every year planting grass in their yards. American farmers spend billions killing grass in fields. Go figure.
The second flower bed, running perpendicular to the first, west of the patio, nurtured another pair of Buddleja. Sometime early in our marriage my ex brought home a lily the Cathedral was giving away after our grand Eastertide celebrations concluded. She planted it at the north end of that bed, beside one of the Butterfly bushes. It blooms each spring in vibrant shades of orange.
At the south end of that wing I installed a hummingbird feeder, on a metal rod with a hook like a shepherd’s crook. I keep the nectar filled. The hummingbirds prefer the Buddleja’s colorful blossoms. I have tried explaining the difference between birds and butterflies, but they don’t get it. And it just initiates a bunch of questions from the butterflies about what they have to do with butter.
This year, the beds merged.
At the point they intersect I have had a birdfeeder station for almost as long as I’ve lived here. Cast-off seed always sprouts beneath it. I have always mown close beneath the feeder, tight against the post I mounted in the earth to hold the feeder. One day that just seemed pointless.
Besides, I was already toying with the idea of letting the yard go feral. So, the beds merged. Rather, the Glechoma hederacea digging in where grass won’t grow beneath the maple is having a hands-around-the-world moment.
Glechoma hederacea is a fan-shaped ground cover, like little lily pads across the lawn. It has delicate, purple flowers shaped like Victrola speakers. Locals call the plant Creeping Charlie, though it has other aliases. This is another instance of uptight suburbanites deciding something that grows in nature needs eradication.
Ironically, Europeans introduced the plant to the Americas. Where it has spread out and supplanted native species.
Near the intersection of the bed’s two wings castoff seed has sprouted a patch of sunflowers, roughly 4’ in diameter. This week they began flowering. The yellow looks good against the greens and purples of the Buddleja.
Not far from the Sunflower Patch one of the maple’s long branches sweeps down toward the ground. It’s the lowest reach of the summer canopy. The branches made a convenient anchor for a suet cage, which I’ve added to the delight of the many species of bird that call on Mark Park as a way-station on their travels.
Suburban backyard feeders tend to host a sweeping variety of species. I’m no ornithologist. I barely qualify as an adept bird watcher. But I have obtained a field guide and try to learn their names. I’ve seen three species of woodpecker, two of hummingbird. I’ve got jays and sparrows and robins and starlings and cardinals. “I have titmice and chickadees,” I say, in a bad WC Fields imitation.
Birds sometimes whisper to people. Sometimes we hear. We can learn a lot from the birds: they do not sow nor reap nor gather into barns, yet they find enough to eat. And sing appreciation.