Last week of February.

Winter wears on.

Trees hold up their naked, skeletal branches, exposing clumps of old birds’ nests. The world is colorless, like a vintage film, a study of grayscale contrasts. Only the pines, bent by a recent glazing of ice, remain green. My backyard is littered with their brokenness. Tufts of needles and a couple of large boughs are strewn across the dead, mud-puddled grass.

It is a time of enduring.

Little things go a long way.

I’ve written of the stab of joy on seeing a bluebird, that brilliant dash of color against this dreary backdrop, as something to treasure each day. Now, despite the cold, an unseen bird nearby sings a bright song to usher in the dawn while it is still dark: cheer cheer cheer… a cardinal. Another favorite bird. I long for its vivid red. Just this week I also heard the first metallic honk, honk of Canada geese, returning to nest.

Spring is afoot, aflight, audible, if not yet visible.

And then there is the flower.

I thought it was my eyes playing tricks.

In the old weathered pots on the back deck, amid the ruins of my geraniums, the trailing Vinca still lives. Pale, leafy strands spill across the boards like errant strands of hair. And in one pot… a spot of… what is that color? Lavender?

A closer examination: Two little periwinkle blooms. Five-petaled. Most unexpected. The vines weren’t blooming when I planted them in early summer. I honestly didn’t know they would. This necessitates research: Vinca blooms in “late spring through summer.”

Mine is blooming while it is yet winter. Surely a there’s metaphor in it. As in the cardinal’s bright song in the dark, just before light. Like the bluebird’s welcome spot of color, popping against the blah. More research, because for me symbolism has an irresistible allure: The color periwinkle represents serenity, calmness, winter, and ice. The flower itself, sentimental memories, nostalgia, new beginnings. I read that it can also represent mental acuity. That’s certainly welcome. In the Middle Ages periwinkle was associated with the Virgin Mary; look for these little blooms beside her in old stained-glass windows. The vine’s very name, Vinca, comes from the Roman word for “binding.” Garlands were made of it, for dead children as well as for criminals on their way to execution—good heavens. This pierces me; I shudder. More shades of Mary’s own story, that…we are, after, all barely a week into Lent.

I shall think of this as winter’s funerary flower, then. A little blue-violet garland on the season’s icy brow, bidding adieu.

In place of a eulogy for winter…note Wordsworth’s inclusion of the periwinkle in “Lines Written in Early Spring” (read the whole poem to see what it is really about):

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower, 
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths; 
And ’tis my faith that every flower 
Enjoys the air it breathes. 

The birds around me hopped and played, 
Their thoughts I cannot measure:— 
But the least motion which they made 
It seemed a thrill of pleasure. 

All I know with certainty is that this little bloom, accompanied by increasingly-present birds, brings a thrill of promise.


-with gratitude to the weekly Slice of Life storytellers at Two Writing Teachers, a bright spot in every week.
Here’s to the upcoming daily writing challenge in March!

23 thoughts on “Periwinkle

  1. Oh! An unexpected bloom – and an unexpected (and happy) appearance in this slice of life. I was with you, deep in February’s dreariness and “My backyard is littered with their brokenness” so I was as surprised as you when you found the flower. I love how you research things, how you tie them together, and I follow you through botany to the Bible and beyond. Thank you for sharing the promise of Spring.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you! I’ve been reluctant to write too much of my love for snow, out of respect for what others have – and still are – enduring. We are all certainly ready for the renewal of spring, I believe. A little bloom is such a mighty thing.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I do believe it was more than serendipity that you happened upon those blossoms! They could have easily been overlooked or gone unseen.
    I too have been thinking much of snow – believing that our over abundance here in MA has been a gift to us from above, providing us with more winter outdoor fun than usual.
    Thanks for sharing your touch of spring.

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  3. I love that you’re seeing signs of spring down in NC! We had three or four inches of snow yesterday. While it’s supposed to be in the low 50s tomorrow, we don’t have so much as a hint of a bloom on the trees yet. Maybe next month…

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    • So much snow, Stacey; I love the pristine beauty of it and how it transforms the world into one of splendor – but – that is A LOT! It had been cold, rainy, and dreary for days on end when I wrote this slice, following last week’s ice glazing. The little flower was so heartening. Here’s to your signs of spring appearing soon. In the meantime, stay safe and warm. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Fran, Thank you for this uplifting post. Certainly, I needed it today. Your observations of our natural world and its symbolism are great strengths in your writing. I look forward to reading it each week. Thank you, again! I am looking forward to spring too!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Here is a true confession: I never realized how much nature “spoke” to me until I began writing regularly…I was a little city girl who longed to be in the country with my grandparents. Summers spent there planted lasting sounds and images that will remain with me as long as I live; mining those old memories (a lot of which are connected to my grandmother’s abiding love of nature) led to a world of nature-noticing and discovery, wonder and awe. We were meant to live closer to nature than we do. I thank you for these words – they mean much to me!

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  5. This flower, and the dark and gray of winter. How is it even possible? Yet here it is, and I’m so glad and grateful that you noticed it, you found it, and you brought it to us as an offering. It’s beautiful, just as the cardinal is. All of these things bring hope and life and joy – which, coincidentally, is what your writing does as well.

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  6. That small blip of hope in the form of a periwinkle bloom. I love it and much like you I found some comfort outside this weekend too. It is the perfect hue to make one feel joy and possibly a small sigh of relief at the promise of spring.

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  7. Fran, your writing and your message of hope is just what I needed today. As I read your descriptive third paragraph, I felt like I was viewing a painting. This sentence jumped out to me, “The world is colorless, like a vintage film, a study of grayscale contrasts.” I love this sentence, too, “My backyard is littered with
    their brokenness.” I love that whole paragraph. It hooked me. Reading it aloud I heard your alliteration of /b/, /c/, /g/ and your consonance of /s/ and /t/. I also noticed the mood your first three paragraphs set. Excellent!

    Your next two one sentence paragraphs, yes, I noticed your pattern, begin to change the mood. Again, you wrote a descriptive third paragraph including onomatopoeia twice, which pulls the reader into your nature winter joys. I also heard a cardinal the other day and “I long for its vivid red.”

    Your next sentence, “Spring is afoot, aflight, audible, if not yet visible.” continues to brighten the mood and yet, I thought tantalizes the reader. I love how you personify spring in that sentence with your alliterated words.

    “And then there was the flower.” surprised me, grabbed me, teased me and… You are so good at the use of foreshadow among other literary devices! Then, you dangle another one sentence paragraph that makes the reader wait.

    In your descriptive paragraph I love, “Pale, leafy strands spill across the boards like errant strands of hair.” Your use of “hair” in your simile makes the plant come even more alive. Great imagery!

    I think these are my favorite sentences in your piece, “Mine is blooming while it is yet winter. Surely a there’s metaphor in it. As in the cardinal’s bright song in the dark, just before light. Like the bluebird’s welcome spot of color, popping against the blah.” In addition to your conclusion, “All I know with certainty is that this little bloom, accompanied by increasingly-present birds, brings a thrill of promise.”

    I am happy for you that your periwinkle is blooming already! I love when my periwinkle surprises me with its purple buds. It spreads nicely, too and it’s easy to transplant.

    Thank you for gifts of writing, photos, hope, promise and joy. I learn so much from your writing and enjoy all of it. Hope you’re having fun with your students. Enjoy spring. We still have many weeks of winter left, which I am happy for as long as they bring snow. Yesterday, while it was snowing Craig and I walked through a winter wonderland of snowy woods, along a creek, and some hills in our state park. Yes, I stuck out my tongue like a child to catch the big floating snowflakes. It was just what I needed, yesterday.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for this amazingly careful and caring analysis, Gail – in itself, a reminder that writing is a craft, a work of heart – that’s where I work from. It means much to me that you find it meaningful and helpful. I am sure I mentioned before that I love snow (although I imagine the folks in Texas wish to never see it again!). I savor the purity and peace, the magical hush, that descends with it… and to feel that childlike joy of catching the flakes on your tongue. Wonderful image, that!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. There is such hope in your periwinkle! A quick assessment of the containers outside my house yielded nothing but dead foliage that is in desperate need of being pruned away. There were a few covered, tucked back against the wall on the front porch, but even they were decorated with mini snowdrifts at one point last week; I’m afraid to peek under the covers just yet. And birds…we’ve had the most unusual flock of robin redbreasts arrive just before snowmelt. I’m used to seeing one here and there come spring, but never before have I seen a flock pecking away in the field behind our yard…then make their way to our side of the fence. I took hope, too, from their presence.

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