It is still September. Still September, and I am startled on my Sunday afternoon walk by the tall, skinny stalks of blazing star that have already appeared at the edges of the road. Florescent purple spikes, they sway in the breeze over the round faces of asters, yellow as grocery store lemons. It is not time for blazing star and, yet, here it is.
I wonder if it’s because of all the rain, all the daily, drenching rain that made the summer feel so unfamiliar. I wonder if the tiny calendars inside the wildflowers all have been thrown off by the fact that they didn’t have to struggle for water, that their roots didn’t have to stretch very far, that it was all so easy.
What I don’t have to wonder, what I know, is that the blazing star, my favorite among the autumn wildflowers, will not last into late October this year. I will not be cutting armloads of the stuff at Halloween and filling my ceramic pitcher with the spiky stems to sit on the kitchen table next to a pumpkin.
We are a culture that reveres early. We extol the early bird who gets the worm and the early riser who is healthier, wealthier and wiser than ordinary folks. We make ourselves feel more secure with early warning systems. We convince ourselves that with early detection, we can outsmart disease. We have come to the belief, acknowledged or not, that we can supersede whatever other forces exist in the world — nature, divinity, time, other people — if only we get a big enough head start.
If we idolize early, we despise late. We almost always attach to it the modifier “too,” as though the very idea of late is excessive and distasteful. And of course, we use it as a synonym for dead. So, when the language relegates that which occurs after the expected or usual time — the definition of late — to the category of undesirable, impermissible or impossible, what happens to those things that take their time, that meander, that do not hurry? How do we honor virtues like patience, persistence and endurance if getting the worm is all that matters?
It is still September. But come October — Oct. 1, to be exact — the Major League Baseball playoffs will start, and Evan Gattis will be playing. So will 249 other players, but Gattis is different. He started the season as a non-roster invitee to the Atlanta Braves' spring training, and his story has become well-known since then: 25 years old and out of baseball for four years. In the eight years since high school graduation, while other young power hitters made their way through the college and/or the minor leagues, Gattis had spent 30 days in drug rehab and three months in a halfway house, and two years working as a ski-lift operator, a janitor and a golf-cart boy, among other things. After making his way back to college, he played one full season and was drafted by the Braves.
There most assuredly were people who knew Evan Gattis in the drug rehab or janitor days, bemoaning the fact that he had lost his chance, squandered his talent, missed the worm. Those people were not in the stands at Turner Field on April 3, when Gattis homered off Roy Halladay, one of the best pitchers in the league, in his Major League debut.
The mother of one of my childhood friends once referred to her daughter as a late bloomer. I’d not heard the phrase before and didn’t understand at first what it meant, but there was something about it that resonated, something that I recognized in my 11-year-old self.
I graduated from high school at 17, was practicing law by the time I was 24, but it took until I was 55 to become an author, my version of making it to the big leagues. There were plenty of times when I wondered if I’d missed the worm, but the roots kept stretching through dry soil and hard earth, and eventually a blade of green broke the surface, and finally a leaf appeared, and then one day there was a flower.
The blazing star bloomed early this year and it has already begun to fade, but yet to come is the gerardia and the beautyberry and the ironweed. I can wait.