Wednesday, 26 March 2014
Each afternoon, I visit a local first school, where I help in the classroom. In the Autumn, the children and I planted spring bulbs in deep, soft loam in terracotta pots; crocus, hyacinth, daffodil, the children each choosing a bulb using the brightly coloured packets as their guides. Almost every child wished to plant a hyacinth, or a daffodil, because the bulbs of the hyacinth and the daffodil are bigger and seem more impressive than the tiny, nutty crocus corms. We looked closely at the illustrations on the packets, and I explained to them that the crocus would form a beautiful goblet, that from the modest, wrinkled corm, a satin petalled bloom would emerge as if by magic, like a magician's silk handkerchief pulled from a pocket. Thirty bulbs were planted during the course of the afternoon, the children placing them carefully into finger moulded hollows in the earth, and covering them with a layer of soil, before we watered them , and set the pots on the windowsill.
Throughout the following weeks I tended to them daily, careful that the soil remained moist, as the atmosphere of the classroom during the months of Autumn, Winter and early Spring is very warm and dry. As it was, the bulbs, encouraged no doubt by the warmth of the room, showed spear points of green much before their garden counterparts, and in early February the first crocus opened the petals of it's frail, elegant chalice to the pale winter sun. I was enchanted, and watched with increasing delight and gratitude as a succession of blooms followed; hyacinths of an intense, smokey blue, rich mauve and snow white crocuses, brilliant daffodils. We enjoyed the display for several weeks before the crocuses collapsed into crumpled ribbons, the daffodils sagging like damp paper bags, the hyacinths becoming brittle, dark and shrunken.
One afternoon in late March on entering the classroom, I noticed, with a palpable shock, as though a current of electricity had been passed through my body, that the still green foliage of the spent bulbs had been cut just above the level of the earth. Bulbs need their leaves to rejuvenate themselves after flowering, for a short period, at least. Far kinder to allow the leaves to yellow and wither naturally before tidying them away. The sight of the severed greenery caused me a sympathetic jolt of injury that I found difficult to bear.
Later in the afternoon, a child fell in the playground, grazing her hands slightly and bursting into copious weeping. I comforted her, upset at the sight of the torn skin on her palms, removing her to wash them in warm water. Yet, disturbed as I was at the child's mishap, I did not feel the same acute outrage that I felt on seeing the truncated leaves of the bulbs, only an echo of the sense of the pain I had experienced on their behalf, which is a hurt similar to that I feel on seeing a recently felled tree, plants of wall and wayside wrenched up by their roots or broken and flung to the pavement, the wrecked body of an animal or bird hit by a vehicle, lying abandoned on the road or grass verge.
It would seem that I care more for the lives of plants and other animals than for human, although when my beloved partner fell from his bicycle, and badly grazed his forearm, so that I needed to bandage it for protection for days afterwards, the shock of seeing his bloodied, raw flesh was as keen and strong as that which I felt at the sight of the bulbs. Perhaps my reaction depends on the severity of the injury, or perhaps intimacy is the key, and there is a necessary emotional distance between myself and the children, preserved partly due to my own personal reticence, and partly as a matter of propriety.