|Can you find the bumble bees?|
The rains came and the grass grew and soon it was looking shaggy. I have a small lawn; it used to be bigger, but since I’ve been unable to mow it myself, I have been reducing the size by adding parts of it to the mulched garden beds. Now it takes my daughter-in-law Tammy less than ten minutes to mow it. So she hauled out the mower over the weekend and prepared it for use. Then she cut her grassy paths and patches near her vegetable garden and my little piece of lawn. When she finished, she stopped by my house to say “I couldn’t bear to cut that little patch of ajuga blossoms that’s growing in the lawn, so I left it. I’ll cut it next time after it’s done blooming."
When I went out later to have a look I was struck by how beautiful that cheerful patch of ajuga is. There aare several bright yellow buttercups blooming just a little higher than the purple ajuga (also called bugleweed), and the entire patch was alive with multi-colored bumble bees. I called out to my son Robin who was coming out of his photo studio where he had been working on a project for a forthcoming exhibit. I asked if he could take a picture of the rescued flowers for my next blog post. He got his digital camera and came at once. As we stood there admiring the scene at our feet, Robin told me that once when my mother was visiting, she had called his attention to a patch of that same groundcover, saying, “Look, it is a little choir.” She then proceeded to point out small groupings within the mass and telling a story about some of the choristers.
As he told me, my mind flashed back to my mother and her eccentric friend, whom we all called “Emma P.” I could hear them avidly discussing unusual little flower groupings like wild daisies growing in a circle or a large leafed May Apple that created a place to hide in its shadow. The subject was Little People, or fairies, in the Irish tradition. Emma P. told us she could see these little people and knew their ways and just how they hid in the foliage or disguised themselves as flowers.
She lived in a little bungalow and that word itself was magic to me. (We always lived in two-storey houses and bungalows were just in books.) All the surfaces in her house were covered with magazines and newspapers, and her little end tables had stacks of stuff spilling off the shelves below. There were bookcases full of novels and religious books along with references on wildflowers, birds and the lore of fairies.
She was a vegetarian, something I had never heard of, and she scared me with her terrible tirades about the evils of eating organ meats where all the body poisons go. But she enchanted me with her stories about nature, birds and all kinds of fairies, elves and leprechauns. She was an amateur artist and her walls were filled with her own work and the house smelled faintly of oil paint. I remember that she could draw well and made little pictures for me. She also had pretty brown hair, a soft round face, a comfortable lap and an ample bosom. There were (at least for me) many mysteries about her and I sensed she was a little too extreme in her views for my father’s taste, but she was mother’s good friend and I loved her myself. One of my grandmothers died before I was born, and the other one only visited occasionally, so I often adopted other older women to fill in that gap.
I absolutely believed what Emma P told me about Little People. It wasn’t like hearing a story, but more like listening to an ardent birdwatcher talking about the many kinds of finches she had seen. (One of my other grandmotherly friends was in the that category.) I was fascinated by fairy tales—which are usually more about people with the occasional good fairy or wicked witch— and books about fairies—the real ones, as I thought. I had read most of what the public library had to offer in those categories. I paid attention to wild flowers everywhere I walked and looked for unusually large toadstools, or a little thicket of one species like the ajuga, hoping I’d catch sight of a leprechaun or a tiny fairy princess. I talked myself into believing that I too could also see those magical tiny creatures that Emma P. told me about; although with hindsight, I can equally credit a vivid imagination for my occasional sightings. However, as an adult, I remain open to the possibility of wood sprites in our hemlock grove or a fairy choir hiding in ruffled ajuga blossoms in my lawn.
Shortly after Bill and I were married, we went to see the famous comedienne Bea Lillie at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. She closed the first half of her one-woman show with her signature number, called “There Are Fairies in the Bottom of my Garden”. While I was following the memory trail back to childhood and Emma P, I decided to see if I could find the lyrics and if they were in the public domain. Google found them and they are still under copyright, but you could find them too if you’re curious. The song has lots fairy lore woven through the lyrics and of course, there is a joke at the end.