Bill Newman: Where more than headlines blossom

Last modified: Monday, October 06, 2014

NORTHAMPTON — It is mid-morning on the last Sunday in September. The day’s newspapers lie open on the table on the deck which overlooks our yard. Sunlight is speckling the garden, lightly touching the cimicifuga.

Cimicifuga, also called bugbane, is comprised of thousands of tiny translucent white flowers on top of a stem. From a distance they resemble icicles growing skyward except that they look soft and warm. Two hydrangeas near the side of the garage are still blooming. With the passage of summer they no longer are blue, but rather offer hues of green, pink and lavender.

“U.S.-led Planes Strike Syrian Targets.” Three newspapers, three headlines, all report these bombings. “One hundred thousand refugees flee fighting” one sub-headline reads. Most of those 100,000 are escaping from the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani, it appears.

The sunlight makes its way along the picket fence, the top of which is covered with intertwined rose bushes that flourish into a spectacular, mesmerizing wall of white shortly before the summer solstice. Now, a week has passed since the fall equinox, and the rose bushes comprise a green canopy clinging to the top of the fence posts, shading the back of the garden.

The black-eyed Susans live under that canopy. A half dozen or so still retain their gold petals, but the passage of summer has reduced most of them to small brown orbs, a central disk on top of green stems.

“President’s Drive for Carbon Pricing Fails to Win at Home,” another headline blares. The nub of the report: anticipate climate-change deniers being emboldened and empowered if the Republicans win control of the Senate in November, in part because the new majority leader will be Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky where coal — the world’s largest source of carbon pollution — is king. McConnell is pledging to blow up Obama’s proposal to control carbon emissions. The global climate march in New York City — did that really happen the previous weekend? That uplifting day — inspirational really — already feels distressingly far away and long ago.

Roxy, our 11- or 12-year-old mostly tabby, no longer as nimble as she once was, nonetheless manages to lumber her way onto my wife Dale’s lap. The sun has moved further along the picket fence and by now is spotlighting the white tops of the phlox and the Joe-Pye weed. Red from the sedum, Purple Emperor and Autumn Joy, is peeking out. There is a lot of life left in this garden, it would seem.

Headline with a dateline below of “Oklahoma City:” “Man Accused in Workplace Beheading Awake.” What does that mean, I wonder. The first paragraph explains: “A man who was shot after authorities said he beheaded one woman and attacked another at an Oklahoma food processing plant from which he had just been fired has regained consciousness.” Now the sunlight has reached the top of the hundreds of fully blooming Unique hydrangeas beside the Japanese maple, all of which help create a sense of a private sanctuary. The hydrangeas appear to be feasting on the warmth. I turn the page of the newspaper.

Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson has finally issued an apology for allowing Michael Brown’s body to lie in the street for four hours after officer Darren Wilson shot and killed him. Brown’s parents have not accepted the apology. They still want to know why their unarmed son was shot dead by a cop. In a related story, the federal justice department has criticized members of the Ferguson police force for wearing bracelets in support of their brother officer, Darren Wilson.

The yard and the garden both are now in full sunlight. One hot-pink phlox is peaking out from the side of the coreopsis with its remaining few delicate yellow flowers. At the foot of the deck the puffy blue ageratum and the deep purple and blue spiky salvia are presenting themselves in a full-throated bloom.

I return to the front page. New York Yankees star Derek Jeter’s storied career will end this day in Fenway Park, a cause for me both of celebration and some sadness. He did not play for a championship this year or last, and he will never play for a championship again. The recent febrile attention and adulation of Jeter will diminish soon although our need to feel part of an ostensibly simpler time with deserving heroes will not.

A breeze makes the newspapers billow; I place my coffee cup on top to keep them in place, then close my eyes and feel the sun. More news of the world can wait. After a minute or two, I open my eyes to once again appreciate Dale’s garden. I pay homage to beauty and give thanks for distractions.

Bill Newman is a Northampton lawyer, host of a WHMP weekday program and author of “When the War Came Home.” His column appears the first Saturday of the month. He can be reached at


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