I live with my partner Tom in our own secluded paradise that often seems like a place that emerged from of a fairy tale, as do many of the plants and animals that allow us to share their space. April is an especially magical month, when the irises bloom and our back yard pond is haloed by its very own rainbow.
Our house is on a residential street just outside of a city in South Louisiana; far enough from the metropolis that we’re not be bothered by traffic noise, yet there are more than 200 houses between our property and the nearest major thoroughfare. We are surrounded on three sides by woods and across the road are more woods that extend far enough to prevent us from perceiving the neighbors beyond them, either by sight or by sound.
Small woodlands extend on both sides of our property back from the road all the way to a cut that lies at least the length of a football field behind the house. The miles-long cut is a different sort of thoroughfare, holding transmission towers for power lines that extend beyond any questions we’ve ever asked about them. Within these boundaries lies our home and its environs: the house with the screened porch Tom built shortly after he moved in 17 years ago, after Hurricane Katrina destroyed his previous home; a bit of yard in front and more in the back; a shed for storage and woodworking; a half-basketball court; a small pond; a vegetable garden and the flower beds Tom lovingly tends when the weather allows. On the back side of the pond a narrow path runs between the pond’s edge and more swampy woodland that cushions the boundary between our property and the power line cut.
There’s no one across the road and no one behind us; woodlands to both sides. Many of the water oak, live oak, hackberry, pecan and cypress trees that surround us on three sides reach 60 feet skyward, such that from our yard we have to crane our necks to see a horizon. Most of the time, though, our breath is easily taken away by the beauty at ground level, particularly when the irises are in bloom.
The word “iris,” which is taken from the Greek word for rainbow, refers to a genus of more than 250 species of plants, five of which comprise the Louisiana irises. Because irises thrive when they have six to eight hours of sunlight and plenty of water, they happily dwell around the edges of our ½-acre pond, where daylong sunlight is plentiful on three-quarters of the circumference. We have added several plantings to the naturally-growing Louisiana irises that were already present when we settled the property, and every time we add a new bunch of young plants to the mix we try to choose a color that isn’t there yet.
The iris was my dad’s favorite flower; his favorite color of iris was the bluish-purple type most typically found in central Indiana, where I grew up.
Around our pond we have irises of that color and so many others: the yellow ones always are the first to flower, followed by deep purple, coppery-orange, white, pale pink, at least four hues of blue/purple, lavender, cotton candy pink, and numerous shades in-between.
It’s typically about six days from the opening of the first yellow blooms to the full glory of the flowering rainbow, and then the rainbow lasts for about one more week, by which time the yellow flowers have already begun to fade. I spend much of that week each spring sitting on the dock by the pond, drinking in the beauty, thanking my dad for all he taught me, wondering at the teeming life on our property even while knowing the vast majority of it happens outside of my knowing. The butterflies, dragonflies and hummingbirds flit between the flowers while baby fish and tadpoles swim among their roots in the muddy pond bottom. Their nectar feeds our winged companions and their showy colors feed our eyes and spirits.