The Natural World
My mother saves soap. My grandmother saved soap. Hotel soaps. Perfumed soaps. The soaps I bought for Christmas of clove oil and cassia bark, ginger and pineapple, orange blossoms, fuchsia. She did use the vanilla; I noted it.
We had some pink rose soaps and country blue seashells in the bottom drawer of the bathroom forit must have been fifteen years, until finally, their long-awaited value came upon them. They were dropped, dusty, into a woman's nylon stockingfooted with reinforced toes, and hung like a dozen crossed ankles over the garden posts. She had read somewhere that strongly-scented soaps could serve as organic deer deterrent. My parents live in the mountains. One of their neighbors, Addie French, cultivates liliesAsiatic, Trumpet, Windblown. She has a Dark Eyed Stella that will break your heart and a Desperado that will make you blush. The only way to keep them is surrounded by a ten foot chain link.
Daylilies and Peace Lilies are not true lilies. Actual members of the Lilium family are toxic and rare, a species that has been treasured and tended for over 5,000 years. They need winter dormancy, shade and space to perfect their stature and sultry fragrance. The Gloriosa Lily is particularly poisonous, but Mrs. French is retired and doesn't have any toddlers to tempt, just dragonflies and butterflies who wash their gullets with its nectar. Five tubers extend below the ragged flags of blossoms like ready podia for a hummingbird convention. If Mrs. French never waved or spoke, she would still be a most inviting neighbor.
My mother cultivates English lavender. It has been called by growers a "most personal" herb because one person's favorite may be far down on another's list. She likes it because the deer don't and its bloom preserves well. After harvest, she binds the stems and hangs bouquets over her kitchen sink to dry. Long as her hours have been at that sink, had she been standing at its window on a certain November morning, she would have seen her father stop his tractor, climb down from the cab and lay himself on the ground to let his heart stop. But she and my father were out of town at a meeting that left my brother alone at the house, as happenstance a series of events as the process that singes a First Lady, leaves a yellow star at the heart of an American Revolution.
Despite the emotional barter my mother offers for her herb garden, every spring the deer eat her rhododendron. They do not acknowledge her economy of sacrifice and reward but only that language of drugstore perfumeryso synthetically human they turn up their noses and bound outside its circle of omen, their white tails rippling with surrender.