1. 1.
    traveling from place to place, especially working or based in various places for relatively short periods.
    "the peripatetic nature of military life"
    synonyms:nomadic, itinerant, traveling, wandering, roving, roaming, migrant,migratory, unsettled
    "I could never get used to her peripatetic lifestyle"
  2. 2.
  1. 1.
    a person who travels from place to place.
  2. 2.
    an Aristotelian philosopher.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Naked Ladies in the Park

"I imagine we are in accord about the use of certain words and I never use a word without first considering if it is replaceable....The whole thing is, it seems, that one should never use words which shock altogether out of their own value or connotation--such a word as for instance fart would stand out on a page, unless the whole matter were entirely rabelaisian, in such a manner that it would be entirely exaggerated and false and overdone in emphasis. Granted that it is a very old and classic English word for a breaking of wind. But you cannot use it. Although I can think of a case where it might be used, under sufficiently tragic circumstances, as to be entirely acceptable."

--Ernest Hemingway to Maxwell Perkins, 1926, from Selected Letters, p. 211--

These ladies I spotted in the park recently are variously known as Naked Ladies, Surprise Lilies, Mystery Lilies, Resurrection Lilies, or Lycoris squamigera. They speak to me on several different levels, which is not surprising considering their origin, bloom habit, as well as common and scientific names.
Thought to originate either in China or Japan, Naked Ladies--or Surprise Lilies if you prefer--exhibit growth and bloom characteristics that harken back to a more inscrutable world than my (maybe your) Western one. The lilies grow from bulbs and produce first only leaves in the spring which wither and disappear beneath the soil until mid to late summer. Then the bulbs resting underground seem to almost magically sprout stalks topped with buds opening up in just four to five days to reveal fragrant, delicately pink flowers. After a brief but glorious time of bloom, the bulbs retreat from view once again, living a secret life in the dark until the next growth season, silently reproducing themselves and creating ever larger colonies. In similar fashion, Oriental women were once--but not that long ago--expected to remain hidden from public view for the most part and to keep themselves beautiful but silent before their husbands. I remember as a teenager reading Pearl Buck's masterpiece The Good Earth with disbelief and chagrin that men could treat women like so much property and with so little humanity and respect. Even more troubling, I noted that the women were complicit in those social transactions, submitting themselves to a fate over which they had no control. Even so, as I recall, family ties were depicted as being undeniably strong, and there was a fabric of life covering, connecting, and sheltering individual family members and entire communities. Women kept that fabric mended and renewed, despite suffering what Westerners would consider humiliating treatment. They considered it their destiny and privilege because it meant contributing to the continuation of a cycle, not unlike that of the Naked Ladies.
Those seductive ladies I captured in the park, wearing nothing but their fragrance and pretty pink hats, intrigue me with not only their growth pattern and Oriental heritage but also the etymological side of their story. What possessed someone to call them Ladies? Why not Naked Men? If Eleanor Perenyi, the author of Green Thoughts (copyright 1981) is correct in her general assumptions about a woman's place in the garden, the common name of this specific flower may have come about because of men's historically "superstitious fear that women were in league with nature in some way that men were not." Perhaps men have assigned female traits and monikers to flowers because, according to Perenyi, "flowers are of all plants the least menacing and the most useless. Their sole purpose is to be beautiful and to give pleasure" (261). On one website I encountered, the author invited comments pertaining to the name and culture of the lily. One comment was particularly noteworthy. Its author remembered a grandfather calling the lily a Naked Lady only to be reminded by his wife that its "correct" name was the Mystery Lily. The elderly gentleman retorted (I'm sure with a twinkle in his eye) that a naked lady is no mystery.
The Naked Lady's scientific name certainly contains some mystery that warrants investigation. Lycoris means "twilight," perhaps referring to its late-summer bloom time or maybe to its evanescent appearance above ground. Its species' name squamigera means "bearing scales." I take that descriptive term two ways: it either has a scaly appearance (maybe the bulb?) or, like the blind lady of justice, it--as any other living thing--weighs our faults against our merits while the fate of our planet hangs in the balance and depends on the decisions of the men in control.


  1. Very interesting history behind naked ladies although I'm sure you'll get some strange visitors with that title!

    As for Perenyi's silly quotation , how totally wrong that is. Flowers are not useless and their beauty is power - they are the reproductive organs of plants. Some men perhaps fear the reproductive power of women too and belittle them by calling them useless and beautiful. The truth is women and flowers rule!

  2. W2W,

    What a delicious post! I was noticing my naked ladies yesterday and thinking about posting on the topic, but you've set the bar too high and I'm better off posting with a link to your informative and thoughtful musings.(They seem to be early this year. Don't they usually bloom in Sept or Oct?)

    I'm going to track down the Green Thoughts book you referenced because I too am interested in the way women have been connected with gardens since, say, Eve.

    You should check out Nathanial Hawthorne's story Rappaccini's Daughter. It's a book about the lady's garden - so alive with exotic and phallic plants that the visitor is shocked: "... there had been such commixture, and, as it were, adultery of various vegetable species, that the production was no longer of God’s making, but the monstrous offspring of man’s depraved fancy, glowing with only an evil mockery of beauty" Check out my old post at: I think the book is available on google books.

    I too share your interest in "Oriental" women - a term that you clearly understand to include women in Muslim countries in the Middle East - and why they conspire with men in their own entrapment. The practice of veiling women has always puzzled me, in particular why women would buy into it.

    Gardens seem often to evoke earthy mysteries, and in particular thinly veiled metaphors of female sexuality. (Could be that's why I like playing in my garden.)

    As usual, your post has given me lots to think about. Your blog always delivers more than a typical "gardening" blog. Keep walking, and keep writing.

  3. I just could not resist the urge, WS, to write about those flowers planted near the entrance to the park. My husband knew I was up to no good when I started cackling while taking the picture. You're right, I was thinking about Middle Eastern women too. But you know, Western women seem to buy into a veil-like mindset by applying makeup or going so far as to "enhance" their natural appearance with plastic surgery. And what about the multitude of beauty pageants that demean young women and trot them about like so many slabs of meat for inspection? A woman's value in this world dominated by men appears to be only as deep as her beauty or pocketbook (okay, maybe political influence too). I'm not so sure that religion has a monopoly on determining social mores. A lot of it has to do with seeking acceptance into the clan, gang, family, community, whatever the group is that an individual finds herself born into or wishing to join. Thanks, WS, for joining me in the "furrows" on this one.

  4. Hi Walk2Write,

    This is quite provocative and Eleanor Perenyi is a great read - but does her irony come through in out-of-context quotes? I'm not sure they work that way.

    After reading the combination of your Hemingway quote and this great post on naked ladies I've decided that if the Tall Pink Lycoris could somehow learn to fart they would surely have been called Naked Men instead.

    Wish I'd had the chance to grow them!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  5. Sarah and Annie, hand me a wet noodle so I can self-administer 50 lashes. I should have used a different quote or made it more clear: Perenyi was referring to a man's perspective on the purpose of flowers and a woman's place. My dreams tonight will probably consist of former professors watching me write 10,000 times on the chalkboard "I shall not use quotes out of context." I am delighted to get some feedback on my writing. It's almost as good as workshop time in creative writing class, which I really miss. Annie, your suggestion about the Lycoris was hilarious. You've really exposed the "naked" truth about men, haven't you? I hope my post gets some comments from their side. It would be interesting to see what they have to say.

  6. This is a very thought-provoking post, W2W, and the comments are just as interesting! I had always heard these plants called "mystery lilies," but yours is the second post to refer to them as "Naked Ladies." Perhaps I come from a more conservative, prudish environment:)
    I remember having similar feelings when reading "The Good Earth," but fresher in my mind is the anger I felt when reading Hosseini's "1,000 Splendid Suns."
    Also notice how many gardening experts and authors today are men. Are they less masculine because they work with flowers?

    Annie's comment is a riot! Thanks for waking up my brain so early in the morning with this lively discussion.

  7. Rose, I knew there was a good reason why I used that Hemingway quote besides making a point about the controversy that certain words can stir. I wonder if the prevalence of male garden authors and "experts" has something to do with the importance society places on a man's perspective. Women still aren't taken very seriously on a lot of subjects. It's one of those little mysteries of life. Glad you enjoyed the post. It was fun to write.

  8. Here in the Ozarks, people (me) say it with more of a twang-like "Nekkid Laydies" but the beauty and delight of them is anything but twangy! I rememer the first time I saw them in an abandoned house lot in amidst the brambles and tall grass. It was truly a surprise and it took all my willpower not to dig them and take them home for my yard.

    "the common name of this specific flower may have come about because of men's historically "superstitious fear that women were in league with nature in some way that men were not."- I loved all of your post but this particular thought is my favorite. I enjoy the fact and feel the elevated status we have as women that nature gifts to us.

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