I stand in the shower after a long run, scrubbing away the dirt frescoed onto my calves after so many miles of Discovery Park. There is a small window in the shower, and through it I see glossy leaves and plush pink blooms so full of color they look like water balloons about to burst. It is a beautiful day, and I listen to the sounds of the backyard—the throb of Sampha on Dylan’s bluetooth speaker, the timpani of beer bottles on the wooden deck, my housemates talking about anything under the sun.
I’m reminded of the showers I took in York, up on the second floor of my dorm building in a large, tiled room with a window flung recklessly open into the afternoon. I would watch the lacy clouds stitch their way across a pale blue sky and, on a perfect day, listen to glossy bells somersault through the city. I don’t think I was ever happier than hearing the shining brass of those bells tumble in through the shower window like sunlight and resonate across the gleaming white tiles.
At the end of each afternoon run, after I’ve hopped up the sighing staircase to my house, touched the beckoning red door, and bleeped the digits on my watch to a stop, I trot once up and down my street. “Walking it off,” I call it.
I amble up the hill, through the languorous willow, past the wooden chair where I often find Roxanne reclined, and to a small cluster of daffodils trumpeting up from the ground.
Daffodils are my favorite flower. I love their loud orange mouths and the way they blanket the hills along York’s medieval walls.
Whenever I see them, I think of their name in Spanish: narciso. Narcissus. I ponder the tragic figure from Greek mythology, craned over a pool, admiring how the reflected sunlight catches on his cheekbones, musing at the perfect proportions of his chin and nose, ignoring the echoes of the world.
I think about this, and I wonder, Was he happy? I wonder if we have misjudged him—if his death was really such a tragedy. Perhaps loving oneself is not such a bad way to die.
“Do you have just one name for it in English?”
Linus and I are perched on a bench in the Rhododendron Glen of the Arboretum. I’m idly twirling a foggy dandelion between my thumb and index finger. It’s like a star on the cusp of supernova.
“Yes!” I reply eagerly, sensing a language lesson. “Is there more than one in German?”
“Ah, yes,” Linus explains. “We call that kind Pusteblume—like ‘blow flower.’”
“Ooo, I like that! What do you call it when it’s still yellow?”
“Löwezahn. It means ‘lion’s tooth.’ It’s the same as in French—dent-de-lion. But in some places in France, they’re called pissenlit, which means ‘wet the bed.’”
Linus smiles, and I think about just how many lives the dandelion lives.
Finally, I give it a good Puste, and we keep walking, through the cumulus rhododendrons and into the woods. Linus tells me about his childhood as a German boy scout and points out hazelnut trees (Nutella trees, as I prefer to call them), and I pluck a purple honeysuckle and tell him how it tastes of my childhood.
Never before in my life have I been physically stopped in my tracks by the scent of flowers. Never until I moved to Seattle.
On a midnight run around Green Lake, the scents of the Empress Tree cascade down unannounced like a silent landslide, making the path before me suddenly impassible. Not until I stand beneath her boughs and fill my lungs like baskets can I continue.
All around the lake, flowers loom ghostly in the late-night humidity, imparting perfume. Letting down their syrupy scents like Rapunzel’s blonde locks. Their honeyed fragrances billow like fresh-washed linens pinned on the clothesline.
To my right, I hear fish slapping on the star-studded surface of the water, desperate to get a whiff, pining for a life lived in air.
“I know I’m a great travel advisor, but you really didn’t need to get me flowers!”
The older woman on the other side of the counter chuckles with the kind of practiced good humor shared between people in a small shop in a small town on a sunny, strollable Saturday. She is clutching a bouquet so heavy with flowers that I’m surprised her arm isn’t tired. In the very center is a corpulent pink peony so fat with petals that I fear it may have devoured a couple of its neighboring flowers but so impressive that I would forgive it even if it did.
“I saw these at the farmer’s market, and just couldn’t resist!”
I return the chuckle in kind.
But I think of the bouquet that the Austrian tourism delegation brought earlier this week, of the tight cut of his suit, of the profound brown of his eyes, of whether or not he had really winked as he turned to leave, and of the sleek black rental car with the tinted windows all rolled up.
I scan the stiff black barcodes on the woman’s items and wish her a wonderful afternoon.
Camellia japonica, revisited
Since moving to Seattle, I try never to give the impression that my new life is a paradise. At the end of the day, life is life wherever you go, and bending your life to fit a new place can be exhausting.
There are good days and bad days.
But as I stand in the shower, dirt lathered on my calves and shoulders pink from the piping hot water, listening to the new world beyond my window, I’m eager for what this life could bring.
Gabe Gunnink (’14) graduated Calvin with degrees in secondary education, Spanish, English, and writing. He is currently teaching our nation’s youth how to say the colors in Spanish but hopes one day to relocate to York, England, where he will write poetry out of tea shops, go for lolloping runs through the British countryside, set the record for the most treacle cake consumed in a single sitting, and work part-time as a magical singing nanny with a knack for reminding families of the important things in life.