A few weeks ago, something miraculous began to happen on my back patio. Potted plants I was sure had withered and died over winter began to flush with new green growth. Truly, I hadn’t expected their reappearance. I hadn’t expected any of the plants I displayed in pots last fall to survive the winter of frosts and periodic snow; and, indeed, a few of them are mere carcasses now—much like some of last year’s hopes—no matter how much I want them back.
But the pansies.
The pansies came back. And they didn’t just come back, they came back thicker, fuller, even more colorful and beautiful than they were the first time. One in the deepest purple and another in the most fabulous orange—truly, creation at it’s finest. I marveled each morning at more and more gorgeous flowers opening to traces of Pacific Northwest sunlight and singing to me through this still cool and damp spring that summer will eventually come.
I was mesmerized by them. My whole life pansies had been a flower I dismissed as “flimsy,” and the word itself had been overheard as an insult directed at those perceived to be less than. An inappropriate term. A slur, even. In fact, just last night as my daughter heard it used that way for the first time in a moment of reality show ugliness, she turned to us, confused. “Why would anyone call another person a pansy?” What, my little gardener wanted to know, could it possibly mean to call someone a beautiful flower … with that tone? And my husband explained. And she was sufficiently dismayed.
But I was baffled as I reflected back on our strange and ever-changing cultural lexicon, because when those pansies came back after a tough winter in which they were completely neglected by my daughter and I, their gardeners, I knew that pansies represented fortitude. Strength. Resilience. Nothing weak or flimsy about them. They’d blossomed against the odds, just like hope returning anew despite my jaded ambivalence and a cold winter of disappointment.
I’ve been simply enraptured by the surprise of this delightful flower I’d planted for the first time last year on a total whim. How could anything that seemed as fragile as hope itself spring to life again after what seemed like certain death?
So one morning last week, when I discovered my beautiful pansies were being slowly devoured by some ravenous beast, I was heartbroken. Seeing no evidence of slugs, I blamed our sweet but sneaky family of squirrels living in the narrow space between the back fences and getting fatter with every day that spring is birthing new goodies to swipe from neighboring gardens.
I decided it was war. No matter how adorable those squirrels are. I mean, really … my newly beloved pansies!
I immediately googled natural ways to keep squirrels away from enticing plants. I planted marigolds. (Painfully boring to me, but unpleasantly pungent to squirrels—or so I’m told.) I even deposited a bag of used cat litter right next to the pots to see if that theory would hold them off, since my cat is no longer allowed outside to do the intimidation himself. (And was that a disgusting tactic? Yes. And the jury is still out on its effectiveness, though I did catch a squirrel marveling at the bag today.)
The point is, I won’t let the pansies go without a fight. They fought winter alone. I will help them fight the scavengers of spring. And today at the grocery store, even more pansies were vying for my attention, marked 2 for $3 and singing up at me in the most heart-stopping shade of crimson. They had me at hello.
Still, part of me hesitated.
The squirrels could demolish them. They might not even be whole by morning.
Like the frequent elusiveness of hope, I knew their beauty might be difficult to hold onto. But I also knew as I stood over them, in awe of their tiny, delicate—but shockingly hearty—splendor that I would buy them anyway. I would still choose the pansy. This precious, determined mirror of my heart. I would take them home and I would plant them in the front porch pots this time, effectively bookending our home with monuments to gentle strength. Because these little wonders inspire me. I choose them, I am choosing pansies, despite the odds, because I am choosing the beauty and inspiration they offer when I’m blessed with their emergence.
And I will continue to choose hope too. Despite the odds and its sometimes infrequent appearance. Despite the pernicious frost of of disillusionment. Despite the knowledge that it sometimes takes perseverance and sweat to keep it alive. Still, I will wait for hope when it fades. I will tend to hope when it reappears. I will revel in it when it flourishes. And I will fight like hell when life eats away at its glorious blooms.