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The Parable of the Trillium

Jay Park

Cari Donaldson - published on 06/10/14

A story told by the wildflowers.

My two-year old daughter and I decided to take a walk this weekend. Partly because it was a beautiful day for walking (her reason), and partly because a break from yard work was needed (mine). We held hands as we walked down the path, and she pointed out all the things she could match to a word.

“Sound!” she said, stopping and putting her hand to her ear. “Bird!” I nodded and pointed out one of the neighborhood catbirds, sitting on a maple tree. She looked at the slim grey bird for a moment, then we moved on.

“Look! House!” She and I waved to our neighbors, just barely visible through the screen created by the heavy forsythia branches.

“STOP!” she yelled after a few minutes, pulling on my hand.  “FLOWER!” Flowers are her favorite, and there, tucked up against a rotting log, was a white trillium.   

“That’s a trillium,” I said, and she closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath, though she was too far away to smell anything, and trillium are not known for their fragrance.

“’mell good,” she said, then pointed one chubby finger at it.  “One. One flower.”

“One flower,” I agreed, and we walked on a little way more.  Then my eagle-eyed botanist made another discovery.

“MORE FLOWER!” She clapped her hands, and then carefully pointed at her find. “One. Two. Two flower.” We contemplated the trillium pair together.

At this point, momentarily tired of our walk, my daughter plopped down on the path and started drawing in the dirt. She does this, and I’ve learned that great woe will befall the adult who tries to hurry her on, or, even worse, pick her up and walk back home. She needed a small break, and there was dirt at her side that needed drawing on, so I looked at the trillium quietly.

It was the first time I’d seen that particular flower along the path. I walk along this trail almost every day, and mostly the scenery is depressing. What was once a wooded hillside full of native lady’s slipper, Solomon seal and trillium, was now a uniform mound of pachysandra, barberry, and euonymus-invasive exotics that had easily slipped past the confines of their suburban gardens and taken over the landscape in this corner of Connecticut.

But there, in the midst of plants so aggressive they literally smothered out all the competing life in the area, three native flowers had fought back hard enough to bloom–a little white beacon glowing in the midst of pachysandra gloom. This happy thought was immediately followed by a darker one–survival for how long? Odds are they’d be outcompeted for water and nutrients, and simply disappear. My daughter and I had been given a brief glimpse of what was, and what could have been, but ultimately, nothing more lasting than the individual flower itself. The thorny tide of barberry was simply too strong to overcome.

While I brooded, now glaring at the trillium as if blaming it for the ills of irresponsible stewardship, my daughter stood up, carefully wiped her hands on her tutu, and held her hand up to me to hold. It was time to continue our walk.

We rounded a corner of thick brambles, and there, to my left, I saw it–a whole impossible colony of trillium, somehow having managed to find a space free of barberry or euonymus roots, and pushing back against the pachysandra with all their vegetable might.

My daughter started counting (“One, two, free, two, seven, sixteen”), as I started at the flowers, an irrational sense of relief flooding through me. Sheepishly, I realized I’d been identifying with those flowers, maybe a little too closely. But how like parenting the whole thing was! One individual meets another, and there they have a choice: they can either let themselves be swallowed up by the invasive ideas of the current culture–sex before marriage, birth control, cohabitation, divorce as a probable end to difficulties, or they can fight back and try to stand against ideas that would ultimately do them in. And even if the couple should fall and be swallowed up, as my husband and I surely were in the early days of our relationship, look here! Look at these trillium that were not here last year, suddenly here now. Were they transplanted there, the result of a neighborhood squirrel dragging a rhizome from some other location? Had conditions aligned themselves just right so that dormant, nearly dead plants were given one more chance to rally? How many more parallels to our existence could I draw from these flowers?

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