Sunday, December 27, 2015
Rainy day at the Botanic Garden
Saturday dawned wet and cold, upper 30s with a drizzly rain. A perfect day to potter around the office, picking up papers, glancing at them throwing them away, when possible.
Yet when my wife suggested we go for a walk in the Chicago Botanic Garden, I jumped at the chance.
Which might seem strange. We had just walked there for an hour Friday, in the sun. It was now gray and rainy. And there was that office full of papers to sort.
But walking is one of my favorite activities. And the rain gave it an air of novelty. So many people use the weather as an excuse—"We wanted to go but it was raining"—when all that is required are a few adjustments, like umbrellas. I was pleased she asked and pleased that I agreed, the exchange one of those countless welcome reminders that we'd each married the right person.
At the Botanic Garden, we wandered here and there, as always, one asking the other, "left or right?" and the other answering, and randomly taking paths and directions we hadn't taken in a while, seeing new things, such as this Weeping Norway Spruce, that Edie was taken with. While the entrance was crowded, with families hurrying toward the Wonderland Express train display, which is indoors, the rest of the grounds were fairly deserted. I suggested we go to the English Walled Garden—that seemed in harmony with the weather—and it was.
"I like it better in the rain," Edie said, at one point, and I replied, with genuine curiosity, "Why?" While it certainly was different at 38 degrees and a steady rain, I couldn't say that I preferred it to, oh, 68 degrees and sunny.
"It's the sound," she said, surprising me again. "The sound the rain makes." I would have never focused on that. Though I had to agree that the rain did make a rather pleasant pattering, soft and subtle, and I was glad she drew my attention to it. I felt the need to reply in that vein, and told her that, to me, the rain was "atmospheric." It altered the geometry of the place, almost added another dimension, making you aware not just of the trees and plants and grounds, but the air between them. It also changed perception of the landscape, and turned the bricks and stones into mirrored surfaces. I thought of how movie producers were always watering down streets to give them a dramatic sheen. It works.
We did at one point duck into the greenhouses, to gaze at orchids and cacti and rubber plants — the Orchid Show begins in mid-February— and, not incidentally, warm up. In between the greenhouses, there is a display of homemade wreathes in the Regenstein Center, and while I was admiring their construction, of pine cones and fir boughs and seed pods, I had the surprising experience of seeing myself in one of the wreaths.
It was this wreath, the creation of Sharon Nejman and Tim Pollak, Botanic Garden employees who had a hand in raising "Titan" and "Alice," the corpse flowers which drew an estimated 100,000 visitors to the garden this summer. My attention was first drawn to the primitive, rather tumescent yellow rendition of the flower at the center, and then started to look at the photos sprayed around it, and quickly recognized a certain guy taking pictures of the flower. Over the summer, I had gone several times to check on Titan's progress, and was there snapping pictures when the giant flower, which failed to spray its ghastly scent, was cut apart by botanists.
A slight balm to the old ego. Nobody becomes a writer because they don't enjoy seeing themselves manifested. But also a reminder of one of the many benefits of tromping around a place like the Chicago Botanic Garden on a regular basis. You think you are going to see plants, and by and large you are. But I'd say the conversations I have with Edie are as rewarding as the most gorgeous bloom or aged oak. And every so often, you discover something of yourself in an unexpected place, though usually not in such a literal manner.