January 6, 2008

The Color Purple

Epiphany. Twelfth Night. Dreikönigstag. Whatever you call it, the sixth of January is synonymous with the color purple. At least in my mind it is. Maybe it's because, as acolytes, we always wore purple robes on on this Sunday. Royal purple for the Christ child, or was it for the "three kings of orient"? I can't remember, but I remember that color purple. It was my favorite color when I was a girl -- the favorite color of all little girls, I suspect -- and consequently, Epiphany Sunday was my favorite Sunday of the year.

Instead of worshiping in a proper sanctuary this morning, I headed out to a garden center on the outskirts of town, my preferred place of worship. Back in Boston, Sunday was always the day my best friend Sarah and I would make our pilgrimage to Russell's Garden Center in Wayland -- the Mecca of garden centers. Sarah and I share a first name and a love of all things green, and so it was a little sad today to be making this trek without her.

To make matters worse, garden centers are pretty sad places in Edmonton in January. Few of them open their doors between October and May, when the greenhouses are all shut up, but those that do stock little more than a few forlorn houseplants and old Christmas greenery. However, after a week of seeing nothing but white, I'm hungry for a little green ... and a little red and yellow and blue if they have any.

Today I was on a mission for bulbs: red Amaryllis, yellow daffodils, Dutch blue hyacinths, etc. Bulbs are the miracle of winter: For an ugly onion-like thing to produce such a riot of color and fragrance during the darkest months of the year, with nothing but a little soil and some water, is nothing short of divine.

But the sales assistant told me I was out of luck: "All the bulbs were bought up back in December." December, when, if I had so much as thought about buying bulbs, it would have caused an international incident, moving as I was from Germany to the States and then to Canada. And so goes another year without bulbs.

Sensing my disappointment, the salewoman added hopefully, "I might have some dwarf iris in the back." And indeed, she returned a moment later with a little four-inch pot of dwarf iris, their pale green shoots barely poking out of the dirt. They're not much to look at now, but I know that in a week or two their buds will open up like "purple butterflies," as Beverley Nichols, another lover of irises, described them. "And the winged petals, so delicately folded, throbbed in the sunlight, that filtered through their green casings, and the purple deepened, and their myriad eyes of tawny gold opened wider and wider (A Village in a Valley, 1934)."

Irises, even the dwarf varieties, are one of the few flowers that bloom that deep, ecclesiastical purple, and so, consequently, they were my favorite flower when I was a little girl. Although my preference might have had something to do with the fact that they always seemed to bloom just in time for my birthday in late April, and my mother would always set out a big vase full of them on that day, just for me. Whatever the reason, it seems a miracle to have this token of spring on my desk all January long, while outside the landscape is a blur of white.

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