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  • Sharon White

Masquerade

Updated: Feb 22

I just planted the last of my tulips, frilly Green Wave, Blue Spectacle, Foxtrot--a peony tulip with white and pink petals--Analita. I’m soaked, it’s pouring. I’m incredibly happy for one instant digging in the gardens, stuffing the fat pointed bulbs into the soil. I scooped the fallen Japanese maple leaves off the bluestone patio and scattered them around on top of the hidden tulips. The leaves are wet and light and fringed like little gloves.  Something to fool the squirrels, maybe. I see their nests in the Azalea Garden down the street near the river. Messy and full in the bare branches of the tall trees.



The nests aren’t really as useless as they look. In his article for West Virginia Wildlife Magazine, Art Shomo says leaf nests are at least 20 feet up a tree. A “platform of twigs roughly woven together” in the crotch of the tree and a “spherical skeleton of interwoven twigs and vines is erected around the base.” The leaves I see from the ground are a masquerade, hiding the sturdy supports of the nest. Inside is the inner nest, with a soft lining of shredded bark, grass and leaves. The surface holds the babies, only a half an ounce at birth with transparent skin.


All the young men who work at my neighbor’s company come by at nine as I plant each bulb in the cold, wet soil. One with a large, dark umbrella, the next plugged into his ipod, and the third in a fancy jacket over his sweatshirt, soaked through. My son left this morning at six for the train to school, and he looked just like the third man. He’s eighteen in three days. An accounting of the universe.


My mother who couldn’t speak six months ago, after a stroke, is now reading Danielle Steele and Jodi Picoult. When I call her at my sister’s condo south of here, she says, “I just finished my seventh book, so stop bugging me about walking.”


The New York Times tells me this morning that “What we think of as our ‘universe’ may simply be one link in a chain of universes, each beginning with a big bang and ending in a way that sends detectable gravitational waves into the next universe.” Two scientists have described “a pattern of concentric circles detected against the universal backdrop of cosmic microwave radiation generated by the big bang” 14 billion years ago.


When my bulbs grew in gardens in seventeenth-century Amsterdam, they were surrounded by scalloped box hedges and bloomed under a grey sky. The bulbs were treasures from Constantinople transported to Holland at the end of the sixteenth century. Boats came by the small villas with their tiny gardens on the Vecht River. The turrets were decorated with gold to embellish the grey weather. Iron gates were delicate and open so the burger could see who was gliding up the river past his garden. Gilded fountains of river gods spewed water into shallow pools. Sometimes, trees were trained to form tree houses, their trunks stilts.

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