There are two snowy clematis on the fence that guards the edge of the retaining wall, twin blossoms turning their faces toward the sky.
They caught me somewhat by surprise.
In the spring I was thrilled by their glossy leaves and cluster of blooms waving at me. It seemed that the almost-dead plant I had bought from Walmart for nearly nothing had survived its first year and, even more, settled happily in. I had chosen it from a group of pots baking on the asphalt for the green sprigs that curled out from the bottom of crumbling stem. I planted it carefully, enriching the dense clay with buckets of compost. I watered it with a dilute solution of Neptune’s Harvest, a marvelous but stinking fertilizer derived from discarded fish bits.
My faith and work were rewarded. Now the white petals beckoned to the adjacent lonicera vine that had yet to put out its slender red trumpets.
Then it had disappeared. I thought it had expired, suffocated by waterlogged clay around its roots and I tried to avoid the melancholy sight of the remnants still wound through the wire.
As a Young Friend recently reflected, Death can be “so annoying.” First there is the investment of so much sweat and love and then—there is nothing except wailing and baked goods and second-guessing.
On the other hand, while I, too, know the burden of Death, I am quite fond of dead people. I take pleasure in an old cemetery, that “fine and private place” where the departed sit and chat as they keep an eye on the rest of us.
Their markers and monuments provide more than space for an epitaph and a focus for grief. I remember an excursion to the Old Burying Ground in West Medway, Massachusetts with my Peripatetic Godmother, oh my, perhaps thirty-five years ago. I remember looking at the names chiseled on the stones and thinking, “These people, my ancestors, were so real that they are dead!”
Apart from the crossword puzzle, the obituaries are the most essential part of the newspaper. In years gone by, as I moved from state to state and city to city, obituaries offered me essential insight into the community I had just joined. The iterations of the most recently gone conveyed the memories and value of the life they had so recently abandoned.
Crosswords, too, are their own kind of obituary of culture, language, and the fabric of allusion and shared experience. As I write in the answers—ink, no pencil!—I wonder if these are words and facts and ideas that are still worthy of the mental space they occupy.
By tomorrow, the clematis will have faded. We are in the season of slow decline when green drains from the leaves leaving a dance of scarlet and purple and orange before they dry to brown and settle in drifts on the ground. The hummingbirds and flycatchers will relocate to places still rich in nectar and bugs and the sooty-gray juncos will arrive on a chillier wind, harbingers of cold and snow.