Purple Coneflower

Purple coneflower is a native perennial that thrives in our area.

It’s been a soggy spring in Louisiana, the path through April and much of May like sailing through a sea of rain. The downpours, a boon to many lawns and gardens, have also brought floods and suffering to much of the region — and even several deaths. How can weather be so nourishing or nasty, changing from friend to foe in an instant?

Physicist Alan Lightman explores that mystery in “Probable Impossibilities,” a new collection of essays I’ve been reading this spring. “Nature is neither friend nor foe,” Lightman writes, “neither malevolent nor benevolent … Nature simply is.”

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To live in this part of the world, known for its natural abundance and epic storms, is to accept the bitter beauty of creation, its power to both heal and destroy. What comforts me in times like these are the signs of underlying resilience beyond the ruin. 

The rain, which has frustrated so many lives, has also kept us from having to water much. From our dining room, I can see a mock orange bush we planted weeks ago at the edge of the lawn. I’d bought a new hose and sprinkler to keep it moist, but the hose has stayed coiled near the house, dormant as a snake that spring has yet to stir. The clouds that routinely open over our neighborhood do the watering for us.

While stuck inside, I’ve had more time to notice the view. A hard freeze in February had reduced our ginger plants to stubble, and their backyard bed seemed a pretty grim grave. But sustained by steady showers and glimmers of sun, the gingers have rebounded, high as corn now while summer tiptoes to our doorstep.

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During the freeze, I’d salted our grass with sunflower seeds to help the birds as the mercury dropped. A lovely stand of sunflowers now graces the patio, evidence of meals the birds and squirrels missed. They’re tall, and the coneflowers near our porch are leggy, too. With their round centers rimmed by petals pointing down, they look like badminton birdies heading over the net.

Such a pageant of color after the trials of winter tells me how strong the world can be — even when so much of it seems broken beyond repair. It’s something I’ve tried to keep in mind this spring as COVID-19 recedes and more of us reclaim routines set aside by the lockdowns.

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As work, family and civic life slowly resumes its pre-pandemic pace, we’ll be challenged to observe the kinds of mental pauses that social distancing, for all its perils, seemed to make more possible. Rainy weather, which brings its own trials, can allow those respites, too.

I passed a recent rainy weekend reading “Seed to Dust,” Marc Hamer’s new memoir about his life as a gardener. His book is about many things, but it’s mostly about the value of gratitude. “In the end,” Hamer writes, “all we are is our attention, there is nothing else.”

Email Danny Heitman at danny@danyheitman.com.