At one time, I was the librarian at a small bilingual early years school in southern Brazil. My days were filled with story times, children borrowing books, class visits and tidying up after them. Children are the same everywhere: all little ones snuggle and tumble together like puppies. There was one girl, however, who preferred to stay aloof.

She was a most purely mischievous child. She had stiff, straight, dark gold hair that fell messily below her shoulders. It was cut to a tangled fringe across her brow, and woe to anyone who tried to comb it! Her features were even, dainty, pert, even pretty, but for the way they hardened and her hazel eyes narrowed quite diabolically when she was crossed. This was a child whose entire personality had been completely overwhelmed by her enormous trait of stubbornness. She was three years old and she was the headache of the school.

She was a trial for us all. When the others formed a queue and marched, she refused. If her teacher scolded her, she stubbornly -- and with a calm face and a small smile -- ignored everyone and continued doing whatever she was not to do. She was an expert at finding the most maddening behaviour: pouring glue into the fish tank, grinding felt pens over the pages of another child's treasured book from home, or eating at a glacially slow pace well after the lunch room had been emptied and classes begun again. It did not help matters that she had an angelic twin brother. The more the staff of the school pitied him and tut-tutted in judgment of her, the more determined she was to misbehave. She was brainy. She caught all the lessons in a trice and then, while the others struggled, turned her mind to mischief. She had exhausted everyone's patience. Full of devilry in the library as much as everywhere else, she had exhausted my patience as well, until one day.

It was a warm spring day in mid-November. In the Atlantic Rainforest, there is a quite magical period of perhaps three weeks when the cozy warmth of spring holds before it gives way to the dripping heat of summer. For just that short time the warmth hovers, as if the air were holding its breath before surging into heat, the way a diver does before she vaults. It is a moment of absolute harmony and perfection.

During this period in November, the tiny bromeliad, tillandsia stricta, (also known as "air plants") blooms everywhere in an ecstasy of urgency. It cannot bloom in the great heat or in the early and cooler spring, but only during this golden time. Each plant produces one hot-pink flower the colour of bubble gum. They cling to everything: tree trunks, even on smooth palm trunks, roofs, branches, walls, electrical wires above the road; pink dots all over the place in a splattered, brief and beautiful display, a Jackson Pollock moment of nature.

Into my library that day walked this difficult child, clutching tightly one of the bright pink flowers. She held her flower all day long, would not surrender it for anything. Fortunately for her, it is a sturdy flower and does not wilt. Her mother later told us that the child gripped her flower until she fell asleep in her bed. That day I forgave her everything, and more. In that day of furious obsession with a pink flower, she encapsulated the foundation of all culture, of all that pulls humanity out of the mire of animal instinct toward civilization. I will cherish always that wild, ferocious little soul who could love beauty.

She became the inspiration for Chloe in The Big Field : a Child's Year Under the Southern Cross.

©2010 Anne Morddel


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Comment by Suz Lipman on August 18, 2010 at 2:00pm
Thank you so much for sharing this astounding moment and beautiful observation, Anne. I truly appreciate it and agree with John -- you have a gift for deep and lovely writing. I'd love to hear more about your book.
Comment by John Thielbahr on August 18, 2010 at 9:50am
Anne, you have a gift. Keep writing and thanks for sharing. jt

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