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Gardening: Cover Your Nose; Cover Your Eyes

Come on, Nature, get a room, says human race.



It's always such a shock to go outside this time of year and find everything acting so obscenely. From the innocent beauty of winter — that G-rated "Snow White" time of year — spring emerges, swelling and ripe and sticky like a teen movie. At some point, practically overnight, Nature becomes PG-13.

And because we're such a proper species, hiding our reproductive bits behind clothes, we act like we don't notice it. The Outdoors gets all tarted up with blossoming fruit trees and randy animals, and all we do is break out the croquet set. All of a sudden, trees are swelling and shivering with activity, singeing the eyes with color and the nose with pollen. And everything that spent its winter under a rock or under the soil is out and about, trying to get lucky. The bottom line is this: Plants are having sex out there, right out in the open, and no one seems willing to say anything about it.

We edit films for content, we edit books, we edit television shows and radio; even the Internet is controlled to some degree. But spring is just out there carrying on without censor. In this age of insecurity, can we really be so sure of what's happening in our yards and fields? Shouldn't someone monitor the morals of this indecent season?

It's tough to know what's really going on without a bee's ability to see into the ultraviolet range of the spectrum. To them, a field of flowers is lit up like the neon signs of a red-light district, all "XXX" and flashing stamens. And still we ignore this rampant fertility, even as we drive through ominous yellow clouds of pollen. But plants are shameless, and there's a show on every flower. Maybe our allergies are just a reaction to plant smut.

Look at the pink lady's slipper orchid, growing amid the conservative oaks of Eastern forests: how they seduce with their shoe-shaped petals! That little pouch is a one-way road to promiscuity! Bees are enticed inside by droplets of a sweet, nectarlike fluid, and the only exit is through a small opening at the back of the pouch. To penetrate the pouch, a bee brushes its pollen-covered back against the female stigma, pollinating the plant. When the bee makes its way out, the orchid coats the bee's back with more pollen, preparing it for its next tawdry encounter. And we let our children go out and see this?

Oh, sure, we act like we're hip to it. The stores bloom with new clothes for the season — shorts and swimsuits and shirts designed to reveal. And they're all in bright colors, lots of flower prints and pastel polos. It's our way of keeping up with the Joneses. Except the Joneses are azaleas. And our colors can't compete.

Once upon a time, pagan traditions and farming cultures would celebrate the fertility of spring at the time of the equinox with dances and festivals. The community would come together and draw off the energy and growth, propelling its members into the summer. With industrialization came the birth of the workweek, and our rhythms began following the time clock rather than Nature's clock. A lot of cultures thought that the sexiness of the Outdoors was a bad thing, and then came repression of desires and all the rest. But Nature's still out there, reminding us that it has needs. We can lock ourselves in our houses, but when wisteria seedpods burst against our windows like little shotguns, we know we can't escape it.

Maybe the answer lies in the calendar. The wall calendar, I mean. It reminds us of our days and seasons, it entertains the eyes with everything from pictures of firemen and swimsuit models to raw photos of plant reproductive parts. We hang them in our homes and offices, pretending to ignore the connection. But you don't need to have bee eyes to see the pollen on the wall.


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