Wild Mustard, Lost Beauty


It's the last day of January, and the little ornamental plum tree in our yard has finished its spring blooming. The poor thing has never been the same since the back fence collapsed in a rainstorm four years ago, burying the tree in a heap of redwood rubble. Kelly had to perform emergency surgery to save it, amputating half of its limbs and effectively cutting it back to dwarf size. Ever since then, like someone's crazy aunt who wears sandals and sundresses in the snow, it's bloomed blithely at the wrong time of year, pushing out sprays of delicate pink blossoms amidst driving rain and freezing temperatures.

I can relate to the plum tree's confusion, because this year I'm afraid that I may not know when spring has arrived. Forget calendars -- March, schmarch! -- or robins or all the traditional harbingers. For me, the coming of spring has always been marked by the first appearance of wild mustard in a particular walnut grove across town. It was only a small grove, maybe twelve trees on a pocket-handkerchief plot, but it was breathtaking, the sunny yellow of the mustard flowers contrasting with the bright, tender green of new grass. It never failed to lift my spirits; it announced that the dark days of winter were over and a season of light and hope was beginning.

I always meant to stop my car at the side of the road and photograph the scene, the knobby, still-bare branches of the trees forming patterns against the blue sky, the wild mustard blooming abundantly around their trunks. Of course, I never did, and now it's too late; my walnut grove is gone. Last summer the parcel of land was sold to developers, and there are now houses occupying the site. The loveliness has been uprooted and paved it over with tar and concrete.

I drive past the new houses every day on my way to town, glowering and directing dark thoughts their way (I hope they don't sell! I hope the contractor loses his shirt on the deal!), but I'm not serious. After all, even despoilers of natural beauty have wives and children to support.

Still, I need to find another way to discover when spring arrives. Do you think the residents of Walnut Acres would mind if I camped out in their backyards with a flashlight, waiting with barely contained excitement for that first sprig of wild mustard to emerge from the damp earth?

-- Laverne Mau Dicker, 2000

Laverne can be reached at leilani@sonic.net

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