Last week I was speaking with my friend, Marie, about our experiences with epiphany. She told me about one of those precious, golden moments of absolute enlightenment she once experienced upon disembarking from a commuter train in Boston. She'd been contemplating a major life change at the time, so this particular epiphany signaled a new beginning for her. Writing in a journal on the train, she described feeling that her heart was tightly bound in metal bands. Nonetheless, her heart felt as if it were growing and growing, straining its bindings until it finally burst free and spread out all around her in an aura of nirvana. She walked down the street meeting the eyes of passersby, aware that some of her overflowing vivacity spilled out onto each and every one of them.
Such moments of rebirth don't come without a price. I once lived in a guesthouse on the ranch of a friend who'd been giving me riding lessons. Along the north side of the house there was a fabulous tangle of an ancient rose bush that had sprawled the entire width of the house. As Spring drew near, I watched with expectant fascination while the thorny mass of growth came to life. But I was bit disappointed. It grew scraggly and each cane seemed like a desperate stab at survival. When I hung my laundry out on the line in the side yard, I had to maneuver myself carefully to avoid getting hooked on the prickly canes that reached out to grab me.
So immense and snarled was that rose that it looked like it had been planted a century ago and had never had any dead wood trimmed out of it. As anyone who has ever grown roses knows, they require regular pruning, and this plant was a perfect example of what happens to a bush whose maintenance has been neglected. Some of the bright green shoots had to stretch themselves three or four yards through a dim wasteland of dead, brittle tentacles before they could make any attempts to leaf or branch. They put so much energy into growing out of that ancient detritus that they were too tired and weakened by the time they reached daylight to produce more than a small, feeble bloom or two. After securing permission to prune the bush, I armed myself with pruning shears and saw to ravish and enliven the plant.
More beast than bush, it seemed to react to my presence with sharpened tools like a smelly dog might to a tub of sudsy water. Its persistent, prickly mass rattled a warning in the billowing breeze and caught my skin and clothes in its thorny embrace, exacting a blood price in return for my selective slaughter. As I cropped off spans of the spindly shoots that reached out from the base of the plant, what I found beneath was almost entirely dead wood – acres of ghostly kindling contained within the space of a few square feet. There was one especially thick limb that had lost its grace and managed to look gangly in spite of its girth. I hated to chop up and mangle such a noble plant — decrepit though it had become — and I paused to admire and caress the smooth, graceful grain of its wood. It reminded me of a lovely, old contrabass clarinet made from rosewood I used to play in high school whenever I could. As I continued to prune and maul away at the remainder of the rose bush, I imagined the mournful, mellow tone of that magnificent woodwind, and as I did so, quietly humming to myself, the blustery wind died down, and the sticky canes ceased to ensnare me.
That afternoon, I managed to cut back about two-thirds of the rose bush, filling my entire front yard with its discarded waste. When my ever-so-patient riding instructor, dear friend, and landlady came home from work that evening, she spied the heap of brambly branches I was bundling to take to the dump and all hell broke loose. She didn't want to hear my explanations; she didn't want to know how much experience I'd had with gardening and pruning; she just wanted me to know that her grandmother had planted that rose, and as far as she was concerned, I had utterly destroyed it, as well as the memory of her grandmother. Her sister, who held the plant in particular esteem, would be visiting over the weekend, and if I didn't want my butt kicked into the next county, I'd better make myself scarce.
Duly chagrined, I ceased all slaughterous activity upon the bush, even though I hadn't yet touched the far end of it, and frantically focused on coaxing it to grow healthy and bloom before the sister's arrival. I blanketed it with peat moss and nourished it with libations of the best rose food I could find. I watered it twice daily, and even planted a flat of perky little pansies at its base to help obscure the bareness there. And I discretely left for the weekend on a camping excursion in the next county.
I realize I can't speak for the rose, but I believe that even though my pruning may have been a rather traumatic experience, it must have felt much like Marie's heart did when it burst free from its metal bindings. I could have parked a lawn chair beneath my clothesline and watched that rose bush grow. Within a week I could measure its growth with a ruler, and within two weeks there were new buds forming. Where that raggedy rose had focused all of its energy into growing canes out past dead parts of itself, now it could concentrate its newfound vigor on spreading and branching and blooming. And oh, what blooms it had! By midsummer, there were dozens and dozens of robust, fragrant blooms.
At the time, it seemed to me a wondrously uncommon resurrection, although I've seen such everyday miracles countless times before. Each tiny green seedling that curls itself out from beneath the earth; each slithering vine that stretches and enwraps its host; each bud that cracks apart its sepals, allowing its petals to erupt forth — these humble epiphanies are just as precious as that remarkable rose's rebirth and my friend's brimming aura on the streets of Boston. All living things periodically shed their skins — comfortable and familiar as they may be — and dance green and naked in the sun.