New Orleans has a small but delightful botanical garden in City Park, which is the largest park in the city. The garden’s closed now, as is just about everything else. For the last two days I’ve taken a walk along its periphery, strolling along the iron fencing that marks its frontier. Because flowers are now blooming here, I wish the garden was open. Nothing uplifts the spirit like a blooming flower.
The fringes will have to do. In fact, they do quite well, like a sideshow that entices you with a tantalizing glimpse of what you’ll see inside if you buy a ticket: “Ladies and Gentlemen, let me draw your attention to this astounding … ” The plants and flowers just outside the boundaries were obviously planted as a way of showing you the kinds of spectacular plants and flowers waiting for you inside.
Early in the morning I walk slowly, taking these rarities in, with their wondrous shapes and hues. Some exuberant petals look like they’ve been painted by Monet. Some have filaments that look like they should be moving in slow motion thousands of feet underwater. Some are tiny, fiercely colored. I don’t know the names. Since the flowers are not actually inside the botanical garden, they are not identified. I peer at them with an intensity I don’t remember ever having before, at least not while looking at flowers. I am observing with great clarity. I see them so well.
Then, I think two things. First, that I am able to do this because nothing else is crowding my mind. I’ve become essentialized. I am living with what is directly in front of me, because there is nothing else. Second, I think this is how the great nature writers like Thoreau, Aldo Leopold, and Annie Dillard saw things. They managed, in a world with many distractions, to essentialize themselves and see just what was before them and nothing else. I hope I can keep this faculty when this is all over. My eyes have never seemed stronger, and there are wonderful things to see.