Wondering in the everyday

Over at the Carrot Ranch this week Charli Mills is talking about onions; onions and gophers, and how she planted onions to keep the gophers out of her veggie patch, only to find that gophers love onions! Who would have thought?

Just as children’s experiences differ, Charli’s experience with onions is very different from mine. Other than a few old onions sprouting in my veggie basket, I’d never grown onions until my lovely daughter Bec and son-outlaw Glenn planted some shallots in a pot for me. While the shallots have done well I rarely think to include them in my cooking as I am not used to having anything edible in my garden.

My dad was a one-time small crop farmer and, even after that, grew veggies for our home (and neighbourhood) use throughout most of my childhood. Bec loves to garden and harvests bountiful produce from her garden. Somehow the green thumb skipped me. Or maybe it didn’t, Maybe I just haven’t given it a chance to thrive.

From the garden © Bec Colvin

From the garden © Bec Colvin

While I have some knowledge about the source of my fruit and vegetables and how they grow, I had never given much consideration to the humble onion. I knew they grew as bulbs in the ground, with roots to hold them into the soil. I also knew they sprouted green bits at the top if left too long in the cupboard. But I had never thought about onion flowers.

Last week I discovered a flower in my patch of shallots. I was intrigued. I suppose if I had thought about it I would have realised that onions grow from seeds. Don’t most plants grow from seeds? But I hadn’t thought about it. I just bought them in the supermarket or from the greengrocer as I needed them. I definitely hadn’t thought about onion, or shallot, flowers. But this flower is beautiful.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

The discovery was a timely reminder that it is all too easy to take too much for granted, to cease to wonder about the amazing things occurring close by every day; to forget to notice and appreciate. Keeping a sense of curiosity alive, in ourselves as well as in children, is a very important thing. So how do we do that?

First of all we need to stop, notice and wonder. Would Newton have noticed the apple fall if he hadn’t stopped to notice and wonder? Would George de Mestral have invented Velcro if he hadn’t given more thought to the burrs stuck to his trousers? Our thoughts do not have to make such an impact on a global scale. They just need to keep the wonderment alive in our own lives. I have talked about the importance of a sense of wonder before here and here.

In addition to the shallot flower, I made another recent and amazing discovery in my own back yard. Over the past six weeks or so a wattle tree, planted just over a year ago, has been in bloom. We spotted the buds and eagerly awaited the sweet-smelling blossoms, making frequent inspections and eagerly predicting how long we would have to wait.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

During one of these inspections I noticed a ladybird on a leaf. Soon Bec noticed a larva. Then we spotted more, many more, both ladybirds and larvae on the tree. Suddenly it occurred to us that, if there were adults and larvae, there would probably be pupae too. We looked closely and with intent and soon discovered every life stage on the tree, including pupae, eggs and mating pairs of adults.  We watched larvae pupate and ladybirds emerge.

I had always enjoyed watching the butterfly’s life stages in the classroom, but to watch the ladybird’s life cycle right in my own back yard is very special. Opportunities such as this are there waiting for us to take notice, waiting for us to share it with others, to inspire curiosity and wonder.

© Bec Colvin

© Bec Colvin

Then there is the wonder inside our plants, such as a star inside each apple, the segments of an orange, and the concentric circles in an onion.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Which brings me back again to onions and the flash fiction challenge set by Charli Mills to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes onions. I thought she had me stumped this time. Until I thought about the wonder and beauty of the onion flower; the way that delving into the complexity of a character is often referred to as peeling back the onion layers, and the shared ability of both onions and characters, including Marnie, to grow.

As Marnie reaches a sense of closure to and release from the torment of her childhood, she discovers that she no longer needs an onion to hide the real reason for her tears, and can accept that beauty, including her own inner beauty, can spring from desolation and neglect.

Onions

Before she left she was drawn back for one last look at her hiding place. There, between the garden and the wall, her tears would fall as she dreamt of better things and planned her escape.

The veggie garden was hardly recognisable, camouflaged with weeds. But wait! A flower? She stooped to look. An onion flower?

“Ha!” she thought, recalling the times she had pulled up and bitten into an onion to explain her tears should anybody ask, though they never did. Even untended a flower could bloom, as she too had blossomed despite the harshness of those days.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post and flash fiction.

37 thoughts on “Wondering in the everyday

  1. julespaige

    Hmm…. while I belonged to a farm share one year they had some issues with onions – some disease. And we have a type of sweet onion from Georgia called Vidalia. And I also learned about a garlic snape kind of like chives but it crows curly Q.

    Going to have to investigate your Marnie. Few things don’t have seeds. Some things like Bananas are almost seedless or have immature seeds.
    http://treesandshrubs.about.com/od/fruitsnuts/f/Do-Bananas-Have-Seeds.htm

    I never ate onions to hide my tears… just used a pillow…. At least that part of life is over and my tears now are mostly for joy.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Your mention of the Marnie stories reminds me that I must update her page. I don’t think I’ve done that for a while.
      I’m sorry you had to hide your tears with a pillow, but am pleased that part of your life is over now.
      Look after yourself. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Sherri

    Oh Norah, I love this post for so many reasons. For one, I had no idea about the onion (shallot) flower either! I used to love growing pumpkins, zucchinis and tomatoes in California but I don’t so much these days, although I have had a bumper crop of cherry tomatoes which I grew in a hanging basket for the first time as an experiment that seemed to have paid off 🙂 For another, I love your analogy of peeling back the onion layers with that of character development and all that is revealed by doing so. And your ladybird! How wonderful to make such a discovery of its life cycle right before your eyes! Oh what a blessing and a gift to keep hold of such childlike wonderment. I could not understand life without it, I just couldn’t. Even now, on my darkest days, the mere sight of my robin brings a song of joy to my heart…as I know for you, when surrounded by nature, and the beautiful surprise of something as unexpected as the onion flower capturing you in such a way. Love it when that happens 🙂 I love your photos and of course, also your flash. In peeling back the layers of Marnie’s despair, and that of the onion that she needed to disguise her tears, she finds that even when ‘untended’, a beautiful flower has grown where she expected to see only dirt. And she, a delicate rose bud on the cusp of the most beautiful bloom…just lovely this Norah, captivating…

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you so much for the richness and generosity of your comment, Sherri. It’s like savouring a Lindt cream-filled chocolate, allowing it to melt in the mouth to prolong the joy.
      Your basket of cherry tomatoes sounds as visually appealing as the crop would have been to the taste buds. I’m so pleased your ‘experiment’ paid off.
      It was great to see the onion flower, and the ladybirds. I’m not sure that I would have taken as much notice of the flower if it weren’t for Charli’s prompt, so I’m grateful for that. Unfortunately I don’t get out into nature often enough. I am quite attached to my keyboard and screen. (Trying to make up for lost time – they didn’t exist for more that half my life!)
      I’m so pleased you are enjoying Marnie’s development. I am enjoying thinking about her life’s experiences as they reveal themselves in relation to Charli’s prompts.
      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment when you are busy getting organised for your time away. Look after yourself. 🙂

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      1. Sherri

        Oh wow, I’ve never had a comment described like that before!! Ha…love it 😀 And here’s a little snippet for you speaking of Lindt chocolate: my mother went to school with the son of the Lindt company owner. She had a crush on him. Imagine if she had married him? Well, I wouldn’t have been here for sure…or at least not the whole of me 😉
        Ahh Norah, Charli’s prompts are excellent and I love the way she gets us thinking. And yes, it’s great to break away from the screen and experience nature at times such as these, even now and then is better than never at all…
        And so now I am over and out and thank you again so much for your lovely thoughts and messages, and you make sure to look after yourself too. And I know you will look after Marnie as you walk along side her…
        See you soon my friend! 🙂

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        1. Norah Post author

          Heir to Lindt! What was she thinking! When you have completed your memoir, there’s enough in that there for an alternative reality “memoir”. It could stretch the imagination in wildly exciting way, for both writer and reader. Oooh! Delicious! I wonder if he turned out to be an interesting man though. Hmm.
          Wishing you engagement, joy and satisfaction in your writing. I’m looking forward to hearing all about it as soon as you get back. 🙂

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  3. Sarah Brentyn

    Ha! I’m the same way. The only time I see onions is when they’re in my shopping cart. I do not have a green thumb. I can’t even keep house plants alive for longer than two weeks. It’s bad.

    I love the photo of the insides of fruits and the onion. They have their own inner beauty. 😀 No, really. They’re very cool. We always slice apples that way so we can see the star. And the onion flour is gorgeous! I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one. Is it an onion or a shallot (in the onion family)? Great flash. I especially love the last paragraph. And this: “recalling the times she had pulled up and bitten into an onion to explain her tears should anybody ask, though they never did.” Powerful.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks Sarah. It’s nice to find another non-gardener out there. Sometimes I think I’m the only one!
      The insides of fruit are amazing aren’t they. I’m pleased you knew about the star. Are there any others that maybe I don’t know about?
      Thank you for your comment on the flash. I hoped it would work.

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  4. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    Your flash this week was just beautiful Norah. I’m glad Marnie has no need for an onion to disguise her tears any longer and love the analogy between how she has survived and flourished just as the untended onion plant had.
    The onion flower is lovely. I no longer grow any veggies but I can remember my pride hanging my onions up in the laundry and using them as I needed. Anything you grow yourself tastes so much better ( I think pride has a particular taste.)
    I am envious of your ladybirds. I love doing things with children for that reason. They often open our eyes to the sense of wonder that often our jaded eyes no longer see. Photography keeps my sense of wonder going. Great post.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Irene. Marnie is definitely a survivor!
      How wonderful that you used to grow your own veggies. I’m sure it would give a certain sense of pride. I dare say the veggies tasted better with a good sprinkling of that to go with them! The school kitchen garden movement started by Stephanie Alexander is encouraging a lot of children to try vegetables for much the same reason, I believe.
      The ladybirds are gorgeous. I can understand how photography helps keep the wonder alive. It requires a very special way of taking notice.

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      1. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

        The KinKin school up here has opened a cafe using their own produce. Apparently it is fabulous. The slow food movement is mentoring them I believe. Wouldn’t school have been so much fun if we had worked in the garden and learnt our maths working in the store where we sold our produce. It makes the whole process real.
        Photography certainly does make you look at things in different ways.

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        1. Norah Post author

          I like the sound of the cafe using the school produce. It’s take the lemonade stand on the corner up a notch or two, doesn’t it. I can just imagine the excitement, the discussions and the learning. What fun!

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  5. Hugh's Views and News

    I remember placing an onion on top of a jar full of water and over the coming weeks and months watching it sprout shoots and then a large flower. Meanwhile, at the other end of the onion its roots grew into the water. This all happened over 40 years ago when I was at primary school, and your post has bought back that memory. It’s amazing what brings back memories we thought were dead and buried.

    Lovely piece of flash fiction as well, Norah. My parting thoughts to you is did you know that you can prevent your eyes watering when cutting onions by chewing mint gum at the same time? It works for me. Oh, and my sister eats raw onions like she can an apple. She loves it, but don’t get too close to her after she’s eaten the onion.

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    1. Norah Post author

      I don’t recall every growing an onion that way, but certainly did similar with carrots and potatoes. Sweet potatoes grown that way were a favourite (cheap and easy) hanging plant during my college days (also over forty years ago!)
      Thanks for your tip about chewing gum while cutting onions. That’s one I haven’t tried. I don’t go in much for gum, but if it stops the eyes watering and the mascara running it could be worth a try! Nothing else seems to work. 🙂
      Our Prime Minister has also be known to munch on raw onions:

      Thanks for stopping by to comment. 🙂

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  6. katespencer17

    Lovely post full of perception and hidden treasures. I can’t believe how appropriately timed finding the ladybird’s life cycle in your own garden was: an onion, revealing it’s layers, all in one. Awesome. I loved your story, particularly the last line that inspired hope in the darkest hour: Even untended a flower could bloom, as she too had blossomed despite the harshness of those days.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you Kate. I’m pleased you enjoyed the flash and perceived the hope in the last line.
      The timing was quite fortuitous – seeing the shallot flower at the same time as Charli’s onion prompt. Bec showed me a picture of one of her onions flowering at the same time. Without these two prompts I may not have given it so much attention.
      And the ladybirds were/are still awesome! 🙂

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  7. Annecdotist

    I love that your daughter is introducing you to the wonder outside your back door – perhaps you’ll be a gardener yet! No onions here as I have white rot in the soil but I can grow leeks and chives – as Charli says their purple flowers are lovely, and edible, though they can make your eyes sting too. Great FF as Marnie it develops over the weeks.

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    1. Norah Post author

      I don’t like the sound of white rot. How can you grow leeks and chives but not onions? I’m not sure that Bec will ever make a gardener out of me. I did try growing veggies (once) in the middle of a desert in the middle of a drought. I had to stop watering and let them all die. I haven’t tried since. Too many other things I want to do.
      I haven’t seen the purple flowers of chives, and didn’t know they were edible. I wouldn’t mind seeing and trying some – one day perhaps, when I’m prepared to have my eyes sting.
      Thanks for your encouraging words about Marnie’s development.

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  8. Pingback: When Life Gives You Onions « Carrot Ranch Communications

  9. Charli Mills

    Wonderful post on wonder! It keeps us alive and energized. The thought of you and Bec discovering the pulsing science lesson right there in your very own wattle tree makes me smile! Sadly, I only got one onion flower. One! But today, I discovered that the chives I had planted by seed actually grew! And gophers don’t like chives. Bec’s veggies are gorgeous! Is that a nasturtium flower in the mix? I love those in a salad or for decoration that’s edible.

    Marnie has a show of inner strength this week and the flash shows how she has become more aware, thus even noticing and pondering the onion flower. Nice way to pull that into her story.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank your for your generous words, Charli. While I might agree with Carol Dweck’s ‘yet’ thinking, she hasn’t totally convinced me about praise. I do enjoy receiving the encouragement, the “praise” for my work. It inspires me to continue and strive to improve.
      It am very pleased that my two adult children have not lost their ability to wonder and to take an interest in the world around them. They inspire and encourage me. My own sense of curiosity had been shut down in my early childhood and it was my son’s curiosity that reawakened it. I don’t think I’m yet fully awake but my children, and now grandchildren, as well as children I have taught, have constantly given it a nudge along. It is joyous to spend time exploring with them.
      I’m surprised you express sadness at getting only one onion flower. I would have thought their flowers undesirable as it would mean they hadn’t been harvested in time, like broccoli or cabbage going to seed.
      What a good thing gophers don’t like chives. Picky little eaters aren’t they? I wonder what they consider to be to be unpalatable about chives. I know they are different to us. But gophers!?
      It is a nasturtium flower – yum!
      And thanks for your words about Marnie. It was good to have an opportunity for her to show growth and resilience.
      As always, thanks for the challenge.

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  10. Steven

    I like how you have made her look at this place that she must have spent a lot of time in, and that it is almost unrecognisable. At face value, it has either been a long time since she was there, or that she was simply so used to the location, that she was no longer conscious of its details. Looking back at the rest of your post, I suspect it is the latter.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your comment, Steven. It was the former in my mind, but I like how you’ve considered it the latter to fit with the rest of the post. Marnie is a character in-progress, not necessarily defined, but the flash fiction prompts allow me to explore possibilities as I discover who she is.

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  11. TanGental

    Here I am sat on a train to Edinburgh for my festival fix and this pops into the mailbox. The need for constant surprise is so true; if we lose our sense of wonder, our ability to both discern the amazing in the mundane. Ad your wattle is great; I remember the first time we came across it on our first visit. There was the scent – unexpected, and the Monty Python memory of the University of Woolamaloo and the Wattle song. Given Australians ability for self parody, you might enjoy this http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/australiaandthepacific/australia/1497451/This-heres-the-wattle-symbol-of-our-land-stick-it-on-your-collar-forget-the-motherland.html
    As usual you round off with a confident and telling FF!

    Liked by 4 people

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    1. Norah Post author

      You were quick off the mark. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment whilst on one of your beloved train trips. I do hope you enjoy the festival, though I am quite confident you will.
      Thanks for your comment re my flash. And for sharing the article about the republican debate. I was never a fan of Monty Python (though most other members of the family are) so, while I was aware of the Bruce sketch, I don’t think I’ve ever watched it all the way through before (I had to watch after reading the article). I haven’t changed my opinion! 🙂

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      1. TanGental

        Oh Norah, I’m saddened! The philosopher’s drinking song is one of the greatest songs ever! I weep for your loss in not seeing this! The train has gone quiet as I start singing it. Better stop now..

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          1. Bec

            What a wonderful post, Nor! Thanks for sharing my garden and including me in the stories – and for spotting the ladybird beetles! Marnie’s story is so great to read. Funny how we all can come across icons which make us reflect, sometimes at unexpected moments. Nice that an onion flower can do this for Marnie.

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            1. Norah Post author

              Thanks Bec. It was a pleasure to include you and your garden in my post.
              I’m trying to find a few more “good” spots for Marnie, to help balance out the dismal. 🙂

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