Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"Lily Water"

One of my favorite childhood memories is of my sister Debbie and I making "perfume" from flowers we gathered from our backyard. This was the late 1960's when children occupied neighborhoods after school and on the weekends. My brothers dug underground tunnels and built huts from branches and sticks. We never watched TV during the day or evening. I spent most of the time sitting up high on one tree limb or another. We did not live in the country but in the suburbs. My siblings and I considered our fenced in backyard the wilderness. I see the small playground at our school through the same lens. It is the wilderness at hand. The botany area in my classroom is a place for vast exploration. It is a site of discovery. I have witnessed children become absolutely silent as they carefully dissect a rosebud. I have seen them gasp with wonderment at the sight of worm holes in acorns. I have relied on these moments to sustain my belief in the spiritual lives of children as revealed through their relationship with nature.

A few weeks ago, one of my second year, four year olds walked over to me with a semi-faded Lily blossom in her hand. She was holding the tips of each petal in her hand so that the flower looked closed. She said, "Miss Dyer, this is how the flower looks without sun. How it looks at night."

A second later, she let go of the petal tips while still holding the stem. The petals opened wide. "This is what the flower looks like in the sunlight," she said. It was poetry in motion. She smiled ever so slightly waiting for me to acknowledge her discovery. I smiled back.

It was then that I saw out of the corner of my eye, another child doing the new lesson on using a straw to paint. The child blew threw the straw and the paint swept across the page. I turned back towards the child holding the flower, "There was a very important reason why I put the new art work in the science and botany area and not on the art shelves. Do you want to find out what that reason was?" I asked. The answer was like a soft breeze itself, "Yes."

I had been saving, as usual, a number of dried petals and large leaves - flower arranging leftovers. I got on my apron and so did the young student. We put place mats down on the table. I got a bowl from the kitchen. I placed this on the table and poured water into it filling it halfway. I handed her a straw, I dropped a dried petal and said, "Blow." She did. A small current of water caused the petal to swirl. "Breath is like wind. It has force. It can move things. Blow harder," I said. She did and the petal spun.

I got a larger bowl so we could add more water. The bowl was oblong with a flat bottom. She used an eyedropper to drop water onto petals as she held it over the bowl. She studied the drops of water that clung to the pinkish petal.

This led to a brief discussion about sink and float, about raincoats and umbrellas, about what absorbs water and what does not.

Soon there were several petals in the water. It was then I heard myself say the very same thing that I had said to my sister forty years earlier, "Do you want to make flower perfume?" A pair of brown eyes stared at me for a moment and then I heard a very soft response, "Yes." It was as if we were about to climb Mt. Everest.

I got the largest mortar and pestle that I had. The young girl lifted the flowers from the water and began grinding them in the mortar. Next she poured the liquid over a ceramic colander.

With a small funnel placed in the opening, she poured her "perfume" into a bottle.

Lastly, with Cristina's assistance, she secured a label on the bottle that read, "Lily Water."

She put some on all of her classmates wrists and mine too.

She was carrying it in her hand when her father arrived to take her home. She looked back at me for a moment just before she left for the day. She did not giggle or overly grin, she just looked so satisfied, so confident. I hope she remembers the day she made "Lily Water" for years to come.

I am going to call my sister Debbie and remind her of our perfume days.