Thursday, 29 December 2011
A pane of glass, and the dream of summer and winter.
Coming back down the hills, over the river, and toward home after a walk in the thrashing wind, there is a sheltered stopping place where flowers bloom even in the darkest days of winter. Outside, gales of wind, howling and roaring, shake the metal frame of the arboretum and scratch at the glass. We walk from room to glowing room of the greenhouse, listening to the creaking and watching clouds roll darkly beyond the glass sky.
It is strange to walk in a hothouse at night. Almost empty of people, there are shadowy corridors with only a little bit of coloured light at the end where a lamp's light shines off tightly growing bunches of flowers. Walking through the dark, towards that brightness, one can stop and smell a flower that has the scent of early spring, and another that hints at midsummer.
In the Arid Room, there is a sign that can be read in the daylight which says that on every day of the year there is a different type of bloom among the cacti. And so we hunt the flowers in the gloom, finding a few odd-shaped blossoms of lemon-yellow and magenta.
A blackbird and a wren live together in the high leaves of the tropics, where the humid air is thick and scented and drops of moisture fall from above. Orchids and Spanish moss press in on us only a few feet from the wild northern night that falls in early afternoon, and the hothouse seems like some kind of biological enchantment growing on this landscape.
In the centre of the glasshouses there are Christmas trees sparkling next to banana and palm trees, patches of poinsettias and cyclamens. A river of tossed coins and goldfish flows under tiny, arched bridges, and somewhere in the backrooms of the greenhouse a man is jingling his keys and calling out that this strange, glowing place is about to shut for the night. And so we slip back into the dark, churning sea of wind and whirling cloud to walk down the empty streets with their stained-glass entrances blazing, all the bay windows full of Christmas trees, and behind them families eating at long tables. On the longest nights we make our own light.
Wishing you a season of the brightest, most beautiful light this winter!