I’m within the kitchen making ready my graduate seminar on the French thinker Emmanuel Levinas after I stumble upon a line in his essay “Totality and Infinity,” by which he critiques magnificence as “indifference, chilly splendor and silence.” I look out the window and see a patch of dahlias I planted final spring. They’re wild and leggy now, toppling over each other in a riot of pale orange blooms.
Nicely, Levinas is clearly flawed, I believe, and it’s only a disgrace that he didn’t have extra flowers.
That is solely the second yr I’ve planted dahlias at house. Final yr I grew a darkish purplish selection — practically black — amid a mattress of crimson, orange, yellow and fuchsia zinnias from seed packets given as a present to my daughter on her eighth birthday. After the final frost, we fastidiously pressed the flower seeds into the soil and, following the recommendation of the sensible witch Strega Nona from my daughter’s storybook, watered them and sang them a track below the total moon. The dahlias had been an afterthought. I dug two nubby tubers into the bottom with my naked palms and wished them luck. In late summer season they bloomed among the many zinnias like inky stones in a hearth.
This yr, I used to be a bit extra deliberate, ordering eight dahlia bulbs and spacing them far aside sufficient to outlive, realizing extra about their expansive nature. It was going nicely till a buddy’s pet dug up half of them in July, leaving the soggy and mangled tubers on the patio. However the remaining 4 pushed on, and in late August they started their annual present. This yr we now have solely a handful of zinnias, the results of chaotic seed distribution too early within the season (with out track or ceremony), however the dahlias make up for it with a seemingly limitless parade of vivid orange blooms, some as massive as a dessert plate.
Flowers don’t converse, however regardless of what Levinas wrote, they’re something however silent. I consider them as a choir in full track, a loud, jubilant and rowdy crew. I’ve by no means appreciated delicate flowers that sit again obediently of their beds. Dahlias and Echinacea are my favorites — flowers with huge heads that appear barely prickly or tenacious, a bit wild. They seem towards the tip of the summer season and keep it up their ruckus into the autumn, the burden of their blooms toppling them over within the fields. Fats bumblebees nest drunkenly of their petals like patrons at a bar lengthy after final name. Even because the temperatures shift, leaves fall and we begin to really feel the chilly, the dahlias stay defiantly aglow.