The first time that I walked outside of our apartment after spending nearly three weeks inside, it was after dark. The moon was full, which I didn’t know until I’d marveled at the white veils draped on top of each neighborhood pear tree and realized the blossoms were illuminated by moon beams.
I was on a walk to slip our rent check through the covered slot in the door of our landlord’s building just a few blocks from our own, but I walked out of my way to pay a visit to my favorite bed of neighborhood daffodils. All of them are delicate varieties, pale yellow on white, and cream on peach, and white surrounding a tiny brilliant ring of red and golden. In the moonlight, all of them were silver.
In the past few years, the perfume from daffodils has started to make me sneeze. Where I once filled my apartment with fistfuls of bodega blossoms, I’ve grown more cautious about bringing bunches inside, sticking to stalking neighbor’s tree pits and garden beds instead. On that night my hand-sewn mask felt heavy across the bridge of my nose, so I threw caution to the wind and pulled it down to take one heady, daffodilly breath, germs and allergens be damned.
When I reached the landlord’s door and climbed the short stoop, I made a mental note of the dormant rose bush. In June there will be yellow roses climbing this cast iron fence. Down the street the roses will be pink and orange, a kind of Day-Glo ombre. Around the corner, they’ll be tiny and pale pink.
Turning toward home, check delivered, I took the route that allowed a quick stop by a spindly neighborhood magnolia. With my mask back in place, I couldn’t make out its subtle scent, but I could see the flowers, splayed out like somebody’s best china. By daylight I might have noticed signs that they were already past their prime—streaked with the brown that comes before they fall and litter the ground—but in the mix of moonlight and street lamps, they looked perfect enough to me.
Next door, the neighbor with the thinning hair and the navy blue sweatshirt came out of his building to smoke one of his many nighttime cigarettes. I’ve seen him hundreds of times since we moved to the neighborhood ten springs ago and it was the moonlight probably, but it seemed like he’d grown gaunter since the last time I saw him. No doubt I did, too. I smiled from behind my mask and made a mental calculation of the six feet between us. He lit his cigarette and the smoke curled toward me, making its way through the three layers of cotton I wore to keep my own germs from getting out. The smoke was an unwelcome reminder of what still gets in.
The streets that night were quiet without traffic, or sirens, or people walking in groups. Before heading home, I craned my neck down the street to see if I could spot the magnolia with the pale yellow flowers and the Ikebana shape. An ambulance turned the corner and crawled noiselessly toward me, its flashing lights reflecting on the clouds of pear flowers above them, putting on an ostentatious springtime show, even for New York.
I don’t have much to offer this Earth Day in terms of tips or tricks or advice for being ever mindful of people and planet. I do have a few pilfered blossoms, dried by a five-year-old Brooklyn naturalist. She’s an enthusiast of fresh air and sunshine and getting to breathe outside without a mask. I’m hoping we find a way to give her that future.