Bluebells At Bow
Once spring arrives, I am drawn to Bow Cemetery to admire the magnificent new growth of plant life
With the first bluebells in flower in my garden in Spitalfields, I was inspired make a visit to Bow and admire the display of bluebells sprouting under the tall forest canopy that has grown over the graves of the numberless East Enders buried there. In each season of the the year, this hallowed ground offers me an arcadian refuge from the city streets and my spirits always lift as I pass between the ancient brick walls that enclose it, setting out to lose myself among the winding paths, lined by tombstones and overarched with trees.
Equivocal weather rendered the timing of my trip as a gamble, and I was at the mercy of chance whether I should get there and back in sunshine. Yet I tried to hedge my bets by setting out after a shower and walking quickly down the Whitechapel Rd beneath a blue sky of small fast-moving clouds – though, even as I reached Mile End, a dark thunderhead came eastwards from the City casting gloom upon the land. It was too late to retrace my steps and instead I unfurled my umbrella in the cemetery as the first raindrops fell, taking shelter under a horse chestnut, newly in leaf, as the shower became a downpour.
Standing beneath the dripping tree in the half-light of the storm, I took a survey of the wildflowers around me, primroses spangling the green, the white star-like stitchwort adorning graves, a scattering of palest pink ladies smock highlighting the ground cover, yellow celandines sharp and bright against the dark green leaves, violets and wild strawberries nestling close to the earth and may blossom and cherry blossom up above – and, of course, the bluebells’ hazy azure mist shimmering between the lines of stones tilting at irregular angles. Alone beneath the umbrella under the tree in the heart of the vast graveyard, I waited. It was the place of death, but all around me there was new growth.
Once the rain relented sufficiently for me to leave my shelter, I turned towards the entrance in acceptance that my visit was curtailed. The pungent aroma of wild garlic filled the damp air. But then – demonstrating the quick-changing weather that is characteristic of April – the clouds were gone and dazzling sunshine descended in shafts through the forest canopy turning the wet leaves into a million tiny mirrors, reflecting light in a vision of phantasmagoric luminosity. Each fresh leaf and petal and branch glowed with intense colour after the rain. I stood still and cast my eyes around to absorb every detail in this sacred place. It was a moment of recognition that has recurred throughout my life, the awe-inspiring rush of growth of plant life in England in spring.
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