A warm sunny day in midwinter is delicious. Outside tiny wild canaries twitter in the branches above me. I tell them that I feel like singing, too. I walk with an energized pace along the sidewalk, but then stop and sniff the air. Is that scent what I think it is? Yes, there in a garden – the yellow buds of an acacia are opening, perfuming the air with the fragrance that triggers childhood memories of early signs of spring in California. Acacia and daphnia scents always remind my gardener’s nose of the promise of spring days.
The memory of brightly colored flowers in the Baltic countries even in the smallest spaces – doorways and windowsills – prompts me to put in some winter blooming plants in pots to shed some light on grey winter days. Just back home, I buy primroses – red, yellow, purple – and primulas. Trowel in hand, I work them into the soil in three large pots. Like the nesting instinct of birds, my gardener impulses are activated by the sun. Maybe having recently come from northern summer climes has them bewildered.
This spring preview can’t last. Rain is predicted in a few days. But I have the view of my bright flowers. To the patter of rain, I’ll bite into a chocolate bar and return to the biography of Catherine the Great, a story of courage, perseverance and intrigue. With ingenuity she fools her tutors, chaperones and the Tsarina Elizabeth who keep her a virtual prisoner in the palace. She dresses as a boy to escape at night to meet her lover. She pulls a curtain over an alcove in her apartment to hide the friends gathered there.
Now I read of her efforts as Tsarina to determine the shape of Russian society and government and reorganize the legal system. A daughter of the Enlightenment, she aims to abolish capital punishment and the use of torture and guarantee equal treatment for all citizens, even the serfs. She publishes this document, the Nakaz, in 1767.
How is it possible that these issues continue to be debated centuries later? Today’s leaders and governments would definitely benefit from a large dose of enlightenment.