I've mentioned Robert Benchley before, quite recently, I think, one of the founding members of the lunch group who met at the Algonquin Hotel in the 30s. I liked his low-key, even self-denigrating humour and I still remember bits of it. I think of him every spring when I start to plant the back 40 (my balcony), not because he was an expert gardener but because he knew even less than I do, and I find that comforting. He said all he knew of nature was a robin and a rose. Me, too, but a little more, a very little. I know lilacs and love them. And irises and orchids. When I say I know them, you understand I recognise them by name. I don't know how to grow them. I learned something about hibiscus, which I also love, when I was in the South Pacific last year and saw how huge they grow. They do very well with a rainy season. And now my little homebodies do well too because when I water them I pretend I'm a rain forest and they like that. I can manage water. I have a friend who loves orchids, I mean , she loooves orchids. She gave me an orchid plant once and offered to show me how to look after it. After a two-hour lecture with demonstrations, I was awestruck and also gob-smacked. They're out of my league.
I have recently been reading a number of books by English writers and they all amaze me with their knowledge of plants. They're not even gardening or nature books, well, one of them is, sort of - Robert Macfarlane's Landmarks which I loved and pored over for the language more than for the landscapes, and The Old Ways which is really about walking trails (ways) but is loaded with plants. Most recently. I read Margaret Drabble's The Dark Flood Rises and it's full of plants. How do they know so much?
That, of course, leads me gloomily on to a sad realisation of how much I don't know. I know almost nothing of the constellations. Ditto geology. i have never understood machines. I finally saw how a car engine works, literally in a child's book that had a double-page spread of the workings of the motor with simple explanation; a perfume atomiser goes puff.puff and squirts gas (the fuel) that fires the engine. Something like that. My son tells me I'm computer illiterate and he's right. A computer is to me a glorified typewriter and I learn its many, varied services with constant gratitude and awe. Right now this one is telling me it's going to sleep unless I plug it into a power outlet. That happens to me, too.