C.W. Gusewell


Nature's splendid surprise returns

The naked ladies have shown up again outside my window. Another week or two and I expect they’ll be dancing fetchingly in the breeze around the crab apple tree in the front yard.

Don’t bother driving down my block on the chance of witnessing an X-rated spectacle.

And before you waste time demanding that the editors sack me on grounds of willful indecency, let me explain (as I did in a column a year or two ago) that the ladies I speak of here are not wanton exhibitionists.

They’re perfectly respectable inhabitants of the natural landscape, whose appearance never fails to fill us with excitement and happiness.

They have other and more discreet names: surprise lily, resurrection lily orLycoris squamigera, if Latin happens to be your language of preference.

All winter the bulbs sleep underground. In spring, they each thrust up a single spear, which unfolds into a robust clutch of tall leaves. Then summer advances. The foliage begins to pale and finally withers completely.

One might think the plant had perished altogether.

Suddenly, though, there is the “resurrection.” Overnight, it seems, the naked ladies make their appearance – each one a fleshy stalk, knee-high and devoid of any foliage, but topped with a generous bouquet of lily blossoms.

Their beauty is dazzling, but it is brief. In a matter of 10 days or a bit more, the blooms begin to droop and fall. And it’s another year before the ladies show themselves again.

During every summer but one of our time in our present house, the miracle has repeated. Last year was the single exception. The preceding winter there had been hardly any moisture. Spring, too, was rainless, foreshadowing a historically arid summer.

Desiccated lawns turned brown. We waited and hoped, but the area around the crab apple tree remained barren. Would our ladies ever appear again? Or had they perished?

Then one early February afternoon – one day of showers between two bitterly frigid days – we were coming in from a round of errands when my wife suddenly called out in a voice almost of song.

“Look!” she cried.

And there they were – the spears no more than an inch or possibly two above the surface, but an unmistakable announcement that our ladies were back once more, we hope to stay.