Flower Fields, Strawberry Fields

I am not a flower person. I don’t want to imply that I don’t like flowers, but I’m not as preoccupied by them as other people I know, whose passion is botany, and who can remember all the names (including the scientific ones), and understand which growing conditions make them look gorgeous in bloom. In my writings, I often make inaccurate statements about flowers and about plants in general, and, thankfully, some of my more knowledgeable literary workshop buddies step in and correct me. ‘Crocuses are spring flowers,’ they tell me. ‘Poinsettia doesn’t grow in the shade.’ My friend Clark raises orchids in his own greenhouse, knows everything there is to know about azaleas and bougainvillea, and assures me that the lilac (syringe vulgaris) is a shrub, not a tree. Silly me! Based on a fun movie, An American President, I had thought that the lilac was both (by extension, since the florist in the movie informed us that the dogwood was a flower and a tree).

When it comes to flowers I like best the romanticism involved in offering them to the person you love. A dozen red roses, with their vivid color on the top fringe of the petals and the decadent darker center, presented at the right moment, opens a vista of symbols and possibilities. I also like snowdrops, those delicate, white flowers in the shape of small bells that signify, as I learned as a child, an end to the winter, and the freesias, the flowers my mother appreciated most. Then there is Edelweiss, the small, rugged flower glued to the alpine rocks, celebrated in The Sound of Music and rare and beloved in the mountains I climbed in my life.

Last Sunday, our son and daughter-in-law, suggested we take our grandkids to the flower fields in Carlsbad. ‘When done, we can drive one block over and pick our own strawberries at the strawberry fields,’ my daughter-in-law added. ‘Where nothing is real,’ I smiled, and I closed my eyes.

We arrived there at noon, which was a mistake, because when we arrived, the parking lot was completely full. ‘Let’s get the strawberries first,’ we decided.

At the gate the woman who sold us the tickets said spring was the best time for picking strawberries. I got a small bucket for my wife and I, and a large one for our grandchildren, and we walked along the dirt road at the edge of the field. Several yellow tractors that had seen better days were parked on the shoulder. Many rows were picked clean, but we found a few that still had plenty of fruit and began our adventure. My wife filled our bucket in five minutes. My grandchildren, on the other hand, took their time, carefully inspecting each strawberry to make sure it was flawless and ripe. Half an hour later, they were still working at it, even though my son was helping. ‘No wonder,’ their mother said. ‘Look how much larger their bucket is.’ I inhaled the warm air, looked around at the peaceful surroundings, and thought again of The Beatles. Things are never what they appear to be.

After we filled both buckets to the rim, we drove to the long boardwalk in Carlsbad, and walked on it back and forth. The grandchildren complained. Walking with no reward at the end, was not favored by them. My wife and I stopped at a coffee shop for a rest, while the young members of our family opted to drive home. After a Cappuccino, an Americano, and a slice of banana bread, we decided to give the flower fields one more chance. Just the two of us. It was already late in the afternoon.

We found parking in the crowded lot and walked onto an immense field of flowers — parallel stripes of color, stretching as far as the eye could see. There were white stripes, and cream and yellow and orange and pink and purple, and long beds where all the colors were mixed.

A large sign informed us these were the famous ranunculus flowers, native of Asia Minor, members of the buttercup family, and cultivated over a sprawling 55 acres farm. Daring settlers and horticulturists brought them to Southern California at the beginning of the century. Originally these were single petal flowers in shades of red and yellow, now cultivated in thirteen colors, including picotee (a mixture of variegated colors).

We walked up and down on broad paths of dusty brown soil, along with hordes of people. Narrow lanes, with white benches at the end, led deep into the flower fields, for exploring and photographing. Predictably, this or that person would decide to go beyond the marked boundaries stepping between the flowers to get close-ups, and we witnessed maintenance personnel on scooters vigorously chase them away. Guided tours took visitors in wagons drawn by tractors with oversized wheels further than we would have ever gone.

The people around us where of every color and shape imaginable, Caucasian and African American, South American and Asian, tall and short, fat and slim, young and old, men, women and children, loud and reflective, happy and sad. The crowds bothered me. I felt they interfered with my contemplative mood and my desire to admire the beauty in peace. Then it dawned on me they were just like the flowers I was admiring, belonging to the same species and calling out to our one beautiful world. And I smiled and I opened up.

That evening after dinner, we finished in one breath the fresh strawberries we had picked. Ours was the small bucket, after all.

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Alex Duvan

Under the pen name Tudor Alexander I have written and published five novels and one collection of short stories. Please visit www.tudoralexander.com.