The freeze came two days before Easter. I remembered to drip the pipes, but it didn't occur to me to pull out a sheet and drape it over the young and tender things growing outside. It was only on Monday that I thought of my crops — mint and rosemary and basil.
Mint and rosemary, of course, are impervious to freezing temperatures. They are indestructible. But the basil, for which I had searched for several weeks before it showed up at the garden center, is not.
I was dead-heading the pansies, marveling at their heartiness, considering their superiority over, say, roses, when I noticed the leaves of my two basil plants turned dark brown like mahogany and, in noticing, felt a mantle of shame fall onto my shoulders. What kind of person am I?
Well, for starters I am not a gardener. I am a person who occasionally delights in sticking things into the ground and monitoring their growth. I’m generally pretty good about watering, but weeding is too tedious and I couldn’t tell you when I last fertilized anything.
When I transplanted the lily and iris bulbs that Mama gave me years ago, I actually bought one of those things that looks like a cookie counter with a tall handle and dug a bunch of nice holes, but I didn’t bother to pull up the surrounding grass, figuring that their having survived the winter in a big pile in the wheel barrel they would probably survive a little intrusion of their personal spaces.
Blessedly, they have. There are, there among the grass, plenty of bright green buds ready to pop into bloom.
That, however, does not absolve me of what happened to the basil. Despite it being the Easter season, I don’t expect that there will be any resurrection and, so, the only possible penance for my abject neglect is to find a story, a parable, an object lesson in the shriveled leaves.
I’ve tried. Truly I have. And all I’m getting is, pay attention to your plants when Alexa interrupts the afternoon to proclaim that “a freeze warning has been issued by the National Weather Service.”
As I type that sentence, though, I realize it’s possible that maybe that is all I’m supposed to be getting. That the morality play being performed in my backyard is about nothing more than paying attention to warnings. Freeze and flood, tornado and hurricane, certainly, but also the kind of warning that arises not from a government agency, but from experience and instinct.
The kind that alerts me to a dangerous person, to a difficult situation, to a season of regret that is certain if I proceed. The kind that announces itself, not with sirens or bells, but with shaky hands and a queasy stomach, goosebump-y arms and a sweaty forehead. The kind that I ignore at my own peril and no one else’s.
When I do – and, to be honest, there are times when I have — there’s no avoiding the shriveling, the browning, the dying.
Most of the time I’m rosemary. Or mint. But not all the time. Sometimes I’m basil. Sometimes I’m fragile, susceptible to the elements, in need of a sheet or a warm corner away from the wind. In need of a warning and the ears to hear.