The hay field changes every week in the growing season, and in North Carolina the wild growing season starts in winter. By February, I’m seeing these tiny flowers everywhere in low grass, by the side of the road, in my ragged lawn, a promise of coming spring. Such a bright blue! Smaller than my smallest fingernail. Hopeful, upright, the color of the sky, they remind me that once I was a child, low to the ground myself, noticing everything.
When I was in high school in Maryland, we would often sit in circles on the ground when we hung out in the quad. Painfully shy, barely able to speak in a crowd, wrapped in a black velvet cape purloined from my grandmother’s attic, I hunkered on the edge of things, a stranger to this world, and fixed my eyes on the ground. And there, one winter’s day, I found a friend, a blue flower as shy as me, though it was rarely alone. It showed up in great swaths. It lasted for weeks, months. It came back every year.
These blossoms are called Birds-eye Speedwell by some, Persian Speedwell by others.
It turns out they are from Eurasia, not native at all, and they have colonized just about every part of North America. “Rarely noticed,” one website tells me. But I notice them. In the South, February is the cruelest month, not April, as T. S. Elliot has claimed. It’s often gray, the same shade in both sky and field, as if months of not-so-cold have bleached the color from the world. There may be wicked ice storms or late snow. But the land is not dead; it’s been incubating little blue flowers that pop up all at once, on a single sunny day.
When shy people become writers, they often have an advantage. Having sat quietly, incubating, for years perhaps, they’ve been noticing things, storing away details—the tiny life of the grass, how people talk, how birds fly, how emotions are felt even if they are barely shown. They have become people “on whom nothing is lost,” as Henry James advises writers to be.
“Be a person on whom nothing is lost,” the field teaches me. “Notice the swift changes around you. Get down on your knees and see things that are invisible to others.” It starts with tiny blue flowers, perhaps. Then one fine March day, nose to the ground, you’ll see that violets and grape hyacinths, chickweed and dandelions and henbit, everything that’s been waiting in abeyance has popped out all at once, as if it knew I wanted a metaphor for the hatching of a novel. “Notice me!” they say. “I’m finally here.”