“But you must not pronounce its name.”

common pink moss

June is a month for roses and ours have been just glorious. Every few days I cut big bowls full and I can smell the nicest ones from a room away. This morning, the common pink mosses, from a huge sprawling bush given me years ago by an elderly woman in our community, now long-dead. She was odd. One year she walked in the local May Day parade, her head covered with a hood, carrying a papier-mâché head under her arm, with a sign on her back: Anne Boleyn is alive and well in the library. (She volunteered in the library and I guess she wanted to remind us that history was alive and all around us. Maybe.) Yet she lives in my garden and in many others, I know. That’s the way plants so often find us.


Another rose grows up the railings just beyond the kitchen. It came from a spring plant sale decades ago, unnamed, but when I was writing one of the essays in Euclid’s Orchard, I got out my big dictionary of roses and kept turning the pages until I found it. Did it matter? Would it be any less (more) beautiful named than unnamed?

The rose came from one of the annual spring plant sales at the Community Hall when we first lived here; you brought your box with you, and you got there early because everyone wanted the tomatoes or irises or Muriel Cameron’s dahlia tubers or bits of Vi Tyner’s roses. I’m not sure this one came from Vi Tyner, who did give me moss roses, a soft pink one and another one deeper pink in colour. But it grows everywhere—old homesteads, seaside gardens, along fences in semi-industrial areas as if remembering a former house, ancient care. It grows across from the Post Office in Madeira Park, for example, and I don’t know if it ever gets pruned or watered. And there’s a place on the highway, near Middlepoint, where one grew for years and years, until it was absorbed by the forest taking over the site of a cabin that I believed burned to the ground before we arrived in 1981.
I’d thought a little about trying to identify it but somehow never did. And somehow today was the day, so I took my rose encyclopedia and a cup of coffee out to the table and went through, page by page. Until I came to ‘American Pillar.’ Bred by Dr.Van Fleet in 1902. A very prolific and widespread rose,and yes, it will survive any kind of neglect, it seems.

June is about roses and water. It’s about birds, the ones I hear at dawn, the robins that follow me in the garden for the worms they know will turn up as I pull weeds, and even the stunned orange-crowned warbler that hit John’s study window a few hours ago. I picked her (it was a female, missing the orange crown) up in a tea-towel and carried her around in one hand as I filled the bird bath, watered some vines. She blinked, looked at me with a steady gaze, closed her beak, and after about half an hour, she flew off.

Some mornings when I go out to water, I watch the hummingbirds in the roses and it feels as though my life is passing too quickly. Do you feel this? That you want the days to pass as slow as honey, that you want the birdsong to go on forever, the roses too, and you want it all, the scent of common mosses, water cool from the hose, the tendrils of cucumbers, the taste of sharp mizuna and arugula, how the light goes on into the evening so that you look up from your book and it’s 10.00. I was reading poetry last night and these lines surprised me to tears for the way they spoke to the moment. (I tucked them away to use as an epigraph for my next collection of essays because this is exactly what I meant on every page):

Tell me a story.

In this century, and moment, of mania,
Tell me a story.

Make it a story of great distances, and starlight.

The name of the story will be Time,
But you must not pronounce its name.

Tell me a story of deep delight.

             --Robert Penn Warren, "Tell Me a Story"


4 thoughts on ““But you must not pronounce its name.””

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