Tonight was a weird one. I waited later than usual to put Nugget and T-rex to bed. Late enough that it was getting dark when I hopped off my bike outside the farm fence. Just as I did, I heard a mumbled question just behind me. It was a quartet of twenty somethings. The one in front asked again, “What do the flowers mean?”
He was referring to some stenciled flowers on the sidewalk. Some of the folks from the surrounding community gardens had spray painted them a few weeks ago as a guide for visitors on a publicized neighborhood garden tour. I had helped in the painting. My index finger was stained yellow and orange for days.
“What do you mean, what do they mean?”, I replied.
“What do they symbolize?” The tone was snarky, his sss a drunken slur. His Cheshire Cat teeth were drawing a smile in the dim evening light.
The girl to his left seemed exacerbated that I didn’t answer immediately. “What do they symbolize”, she echoed louder and with emphasis, as if English were not my first language.
“How should I know”, I said. “You tell me”. Only I didn’t wait for them to tell me, because in all honesty I wasn’t curious as to their interpretation of the true meaning of a flower. I had chickens to tend to. The quartet laughed on down the sidewalk.
I headed into the darkened garden calling the hens with the same holler that my Grandpa used for his cattle: a high, diving c’mon in! He would rise up in pitch on the last syllable. As a kid the sound of it was music to me. As I called there was no feathery movement, none of the usual excited clucking at feeding time. I circled the premises a second time, practicing the holler.
Still no chickens in sight. I started to worry that they had finally figured out how to flutter over the makeshift fence. I’d been meaning to clip their wings again and kept putting it off. Crap. Visions of chickens running wild in the streets. Crap.
After a third agitated sweep of the lot, I checked inside the hen house, dubious that they’d be there. And yet, there were the two birds, cuddled up in a corner of the roosting box, little reflecting eyes beaded on me.
To the little eyes, I asked aloud, “Tell me, what do the flowers mean, T-Rex? What do they symbolize, Nugget?” They blinked, one after the other. I gave them a few awkward seconds to answer and then gave up and latched the door quietly.
There’s a famous story of the Buddha presenting a lesson to his students, in which he simply held a lotus flower in his palm. The disciples shook their heads in confusion, except Mahakasyapa who laughed with understanding. “What can be said I have said to you,” smiled the Buddha, “and what cannot be said, I have given to Mahakashyapa.”
Tonight’s soundtrack: Neil Young. Keep on searching for a heart of gold, but leave the meaning to the masters.