In praise of GyPSy

As I said the other day, when it comes to being a travelling companion, my GPS/SatNav, whom I call GyPSy Rose, is a bit unfulfilling. However I have to say that, as a servant, she is nothing short of incredible.

Most of us live in a society where servants are a theoretical or fictional entity. Few of us have grown up under the situation whereby servants are present to permit the masters of the house simply to live life as they choose, unhindered by the need to shop and cook and keep the place tidy enough that one does not have to wade through heaps of uncleared possessions.

The servant is there to permit the masters to put their minds on higher things, such as producing multi-volumed works of important historical research or playing endless games of bridge or drinking oneself into a nightly stupor.

Or Gypsy Rose, whose greatest pleasure in life is freeing her owner of the tyranny of the printed map.

On Saturday, my plane was in on time, my car rental quickly accomplished, the road between LaGuardia and Westport clear. I came into the town with more than an hour to spare before I needed to arrive at the library. So I overrode Gypsy Rose’s well-meaning instructions, and turned her off.

This, too, is the prerogative of a master of servants, to send them away and order silence.

I drove through town, past one group of shops after another. I seemed to be following the sea, although without a map, or converting Gypsy’s screen so I lay higher above the countryside, I could not be certain. When another village grew up around me, I turned away from the main road, and set off into uncharted territory.
And discovered dogwoods.

I knew the tree of course, although dogwoods do not thrive in my part of California. I have seen white and pink dogwoods, and once had an enormous white one growing past the window of my second story bedroom.

Or shall I say, I thought I knew the tree. As I drove, the revelation grew up around me—literally. White? Yes. Also off-white, and creamy white, and WHITE-WHITE! and ivory and pinky-white and green-white and nearly yellow, all of them in the peculiarly intense colors of the dogwood’s thick blossoms.

And pink: pale pink, the color of a cat’s tongue. And a lacey pink that results when each flower is slightly variegated. Also rose and brick-pink and hot pink.

One after another, planted in gardens, lining the winding road, along mill-ponds, reflected in the rills of streams. An entire spectrum of the rainbow that runs from white-white to hot pink, filling the vision and the mind.

Now, if I had been depending on maps to re-trace my steps, I would never have wandered so far from the path, and certainly never have felt free to open my mind to the sight without concern for where I was and how I would get back. The only reason I discovered the colors of dogwood was because I could trust Gypsy to be there when I woke her, depend on her to cast out her invisible lines of inquiry, like a bee turned loose in open countryside, and aim unerringly for the address that she had been closing in on nearly an hour before.

Well done, thou good and faithful servant.

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  1. Canzonett on May 6, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    After a traumatic experience involving a fully occupied motor-coach, 60 hungry, tired and hysteric fellow singers, a long, long day of crossing the Alps, an extensive tour through the labyrinth of Genova’s inner city, lots of shouting and two rivalling navigations thingummies, I think I still prefer maps.

  2. Roxanne on May 6, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    Oh, yes, the dogwoods! I love the time of year when all of the dogwood trees are in bloom and below their pastel magnificence crouch azaleas in shades of magenta, purple, salmon, dark pink, pale pink, white, and (a particular favorite of mine) Hershey Red, as well as those funny, leggy azalea/rhododendron cultivars with 1970’s hues of orange and bright yellow. It is beautiful right now in the suburbs surrounding Philadelphia. Glad you happened upon such a beautiful byway, Laurie.


  3. Laidee Marjorie on May 6, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    Ah, what an ungrateful dope I am. I take the dogwoods for granted. I pass them right by and never stop to deeply gaze on their coats of many colors. For me, Connecticut Yankee that I am, the bursting of the lilacs are what herald the true spring for me. Not only do the colors range from white to the deepest purple with stops at violet and lavender shades on the way, but the scent is so beautiful that I want to drive into the blossoms and never come out.

    But I now promise to take a better look at the dogwoods this week. Especially the cat’s tongue petals.

    And, Laurie, next time you come to Connecticut, I so hope that I can show you more of the best of my state.


  4. Sara on May 6, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    My mother’s house has a dogwood, which blooms every year. It used to be a favorite perch for reading. 🙂 Between that, the rhododendron, and the crabapple tree in her front yard, the gardens never match the flowering trees’ exquisite display.

    Strange to think some places wouldn’t have those trees- I never thought pretty trees would be a thing I took for granted! They are such harbingers of spring around here….Cleveland in April/early May seems like the winter, spring, and summer all chivvy for dominance, often in a span of 12 hours, so those trees surely mean that spring and summer are dominating the competition….

  5. TheMadLibrarian on May 6, 2009 at 6:08 pm

    I remember dogwoods from growing up in Ohio, but now is the season of the plumeria in Hawaii. They are mutant trees who dropped all their leaves a month ago at the end of the rainy season, leaving only bundles of empty branches. Now they are throwing all their energy into masses of scented blooms, in almost as many color variations as the dogwoods: deep magenta-pink, variegated pink and yellow, pale girl-baby pink, some with swirls of the deeper pink, and creamy white with a yellow throat and a heavy lemony sweet scent. Any breeze dislodges a handful of blooms, and the ground under the trees is covered in spent blossoms.

    Since this is close to graduation day, plumeria leis are a popular choice to bestow on graduates, and relatives cruise the neighborhood asking if they can pick bags full of the flowers. It doesn’t really matter if one family strips all the blossoms off a tree; more will spring open practically overnight. Folklore says that if a plumeria is denuded of its flowers, the next time it blooms will be even heavier. Our trees are covered in pink and white bounty, waiting for someone to ask if they can harvest them.

  6. Elizabeth Chamberlin on May 6, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    Ah, dogwoods. Their grace always went straight to my heart. They are one of the few things I miss since moving to San Diego from the Pennsylvania Dutch country. Another is fireflies.

  7. Bill Mosteller on May 7, 2009 at 4:47 am

    A normal person would drive from Falls Church to Cleveland Park library by hopping on I-66, driving downtown, then heading north on Connecticut Ave.
    I drove Doyle and I to the event the “back” way, across Chain Bridge (prior versions were, in fact, held together with chains) and through residential neighborhoods in Northwest. Doyle remarked on what a lovely drive to the wonderful event.

  8. Anna* on May 7, 2009 at 6:30 am

    I have to agree with Laidee Marjorie: the lilacs have always meant spring to me. When the hedges finally bloom I know that winter is behind me, then sun has returned, and my allergies are about to get really bad. The trick is to spend as much time smelling the lilacs as possible before the pine pollen washes my sinuses yellow.

  9. Merrily on May 7, 2009 at 9:06 am

    We have stunning dogwoods here in Virginia (not to mention the redbud, which appears when the woods are still mostly gray and make everything look like an Impressionist painting), which you might have admired had it not been raining frogs when you were here. And I’m so delighted that LANG is on the NY Times bestseller list (as it should be, of course!) – may it continue to rise and may its success bring the uninitiated to this wonderful, wonderful series!

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