Helen of Marlowe's Blog

Human interactions throw me

Posted in "North Carolina", NC, Religion by helenofmarlowe on February 26, 2014

I noticed, as I drove into the muddy parking lot, a gray-bearded man on a motorbike, blocking my way.  But I was in no hurry. I had two hours free.

And so I sat patiently, confident he would notice me soon and move over.  And he did.

I parked and wended my way over mudpuddles and into the NC Botanical Gardens of Chapel Hill.

While standing at the entrance, looking at the familiar table of cut stems in bottles identifying What’s Blooming,  I heard a voice behind me asking,  Do you know what this is?

A man with approximately half a century’s experience on this earth, with longish gray beard, longish gray hair, wearing a cap with earmuffs, held out a stem of white wildflowers.  No, I told him,  I don’t.  I recognized the man I’d seen on the motorbike.

It’s the most common plant around here, he said. You must know!

Seeing none, other than the stem in his hand, I was tempted to ask whether he is quite sure it’s the most common plant around here, but instead I asked whether it might be a kind of aster.

You don’t know? he said. You don’t see! That’s the problem, you don’t see!

Yes, I agreed, we often don’t see what’s around us.

No, he said, you, you don’t see!   I see it everywhere.  It’s the most common plant here in the area, and you haven’t even seen it!

I looked around.  Is it here, in the garden?

He didn’t know, and asked me had I been here before. Yes, I told him,  I come here every year.

Then you should know whether it’s here or not.  Does this botanical garden have trees? he asked.

Stifling the impulse to give the obvious answer (look around) I said that I guess the garden has native trees in it.

What’s that ring, the ring around your neck? he asked.

Oh — it’s something that works rather like a sun dial. It tells the time, but only, I think, if the sun is shining.

How does it work?

I’ll have to remember … See these markings? You turn this dial, line it up with the month and the day and … let’s see … and the sun …

You don’t use it to tell time? he asked.

No.

How long have you been wearing this?

Well, an hour, today, but I’ve had it several years.

And you haven’t learned how to use it yet?

I did know — I have to remember …

Do you have memory problems?

Well, I have to look at it again — I’ll remember …

You won’t.  You’re hopeless.  Here put it over my head — I’ll take better care of it than you will.

No.  No –It was a timepiece, my son gave me this, you can tell the time of day … someone, I forget, historically, it’s a replica of …

Do you have memory problems? Copernicus?

No, I said, not that long ago. It’s a replica of a timepiece used by …

Who?

I’m trying to remember —

You won’t remember. You’re hopeless. You don’t even see the flowers around you.

It was Eleanor Of Aquitaine — she gave it to Henry, so they could meet …

Give it to me.

No.

You don’t need that — you don’t even know how to use it.  Slip it over my head …

No, I won’t.  See the building there, you can just see the roof from here — there may be someone in there who can tell you what this flower is.

Do you think they’ll know? he asked. It is THE most common plant in this area.  And it’s blooming all over the place. It’s tall, it’s more than six feet tall, and it’s blooming, and you don’t see it!

Are you walking this way? Let’s go and see if someone in there can identify it.

Wait, he said. I want to see these on the table — maybe it’s here.

ok — I’ll walk ahead.

And then I walked on, as he examined the bottled stems. I walked toward the areas most likely to have people, but it was a chilly, misty, breezy day, and few visitors were about.

A few minutes later, I looked toward the building I had directed him to, and I saw him carrying his white wildflower through the open archway.

I turned and walked out the entrance, never actually getting into the gardens. I walked back to my car, wondering what I will do for the next two hours.

I turned north onto NC 501. A shopping center ahead. I pulled into Southern Seasons, parked, walked inside, picked up a shopping cart and walked aimlessly through the aisles. I looked at all the bright shiny teapots, the cutlery and coffee pots, candles, candy, cork screws and cheese boards, and realized — remembered? — that there is nothing here that I want.

Human interactions throw me.

As I drove back to the hotel, I began to have thoughts — hopes? — that maybe I’d see him again. And maybe, with a second chance, maybe I’d get it right next time.

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