Tiger Lilies. They grew only in one spot near the entrance to the woods of towering fir trees. Tiger Lilies. My body gravitated toward them like a bee. Their petals were dazzling: bright tangelo orange and perfectly curled back brushing up against the stem. Yellow stamens dangled from their center like little bell clappers. Their heads draped over their tall delicate stems as if they were in prayer, thanking the earth they could guard the entrance of the forest with their unabashed beauty. I was bewitched watching them wave among a field of summer grass growing weary from August heat.
And they grew right next to the Wild Columbine, a double treat for me when I was a child. For the Columbine contained sweet nectar in the pointed red tips of its spurs that I could pinch off with my fingers and suck out like a Pixie stick. I was willing to taste anything once: dog biscuits, elderberries, a blade of grass, but the sweetness of Columbine was an instant hit in the discoveries of what summer could bring.
Although the sweet tips of the Columbine were alluring, what really drew me to that edge of the woods was the Tiger Lily’s color. Nothing else growing in the field was that shade of orange, nothing was delicately freckled with dark spots. They were an anomaly; they seemed tropical against the dark green and blue landscape of the Douglas firs. They rearranged my visual field and turned my brain to mush. I bowed to the Tiger Lily every time I would find one. And they in turn bowed to the earth. The earth must have felt doubly happy at this innocent enterprise.
Yes, that color, orange wakes my eyes like sunrise itself. Orange is what I decided to wear at age 16 when I stole my father’s car to go the junior class dance. I wore hot pants, and they were as orange as the juice Anita Bryant drank touting, “Breakfast without orange juice is like a day without sunshine.”
The hot pants were so bright and short that my father would not let me go out of the house wearing them. But I snuck out that evening while he was hypnotized by the television set and drove off in the blue Ford Galaxie 500. I was a daredevil, a rule breaker, scene-stealer in my orange hot pants with white polka dots. Some kind of wild Tiger lily, but nothing happened at the dance. I paraded around, talked to a few boys and was back before my father awoke from snoring in his beige recliner.
For what makes a Tiger Lily special is not just that pizzazz of orange, but the contrasting dark spots. Can you imagine a tiger without its black stripes? Or a jack’o’lantern glowing in midday? No, contrast jazzes things up. And my hot pants were pretty jazzy, but the contrast of white polka dots made me innocent as a Creamsickle.
Tiger lily. The name suggests a fierce femininity. Tiger Lily is the name of the Native American princess in Peter Pan who lives on the Island of Neverland. She is nearly killed by Captain Hook when she boards the Jolly Roger with a knife in her mouth. In Buddhism, Tiger Lily represents something softer: mercy, compassion and kindness. In some flower books, the flower means something entirely different: wealth and pride. But the flower seems spicier than that to me. One source of flower tattoo meanings states the Tiger Lily symbolizes, “I dare you to love me.”
That is what the Tiger Lilies were saying as they made me stop before entering the forest: “I dare you to love me.” And I loved those lilies, those luscious little scene- stealers of the summer fields. I loved them before I knew what love was, before a boy ever kissed me. I loved them because they tattooed the warmth of the sun in my heart and showered me with the curves of the earth. I loved their dark freckles that speckled me with surprise. I loved their reverent dainty heads bowing, bowing down and the earth drinking their prayers up like rainwater.
Terri Glass is a writer of the natural world and former director of California Poets in the Schools. She is the author of three books of poetry and recent an e-book about the history of haiku, The Wild Horse of Haiku. Her work has appeared in About Place, Young Raven’s Literary Review, Fourth River, California Quarterly and many anthologies including Fire and Rain:Ecopoetry of California and Earth Blessings. She holds an MFA in creative writing from USM. See www.terriglass.com