I first started noticing the flashy pink lily, technically a type of Amaryllis known as the Belladonna lily, on a hike down the Mendocino and Sonoma coasts. Some women hikers suddenly whooped and ran into a field to each emerge with a single bubblegum-colored bloom stuck in their hats. And the other hikers cried, “Here come the Naked Ladies.”
From then on I was smitten by the spirit and the name. A favorite late summer Northern California image is of a flash of pink in a brown field with a swath of blue ocean for a backdrop.
Standing there in the sun, balanced on a tall thin stalk, reaching up on tiptoe, demanding attention, the Naked Lady tosses her tendrils after so many of the pretties in the garden have given up.
Named for its absence of leaves, the Naked Lady pops up around late August. A teacher friend said she always dreaded seeing them arrive because it meant school would soon start and her summer was over.
The Ladies returned this year about on time. I worried that they’d be off schedule like the tomatoes and every growing thing due to our chilly, gray summer. But the Naked Ladies expose their flesh no matter the temperature.
Confident, resilient beauties full of attitude, they are like so many ladies of late summer.
You see them standing in a row across a hill, the surviving residents of a one-time garden next to a one-time farmhouse. Whoever planted them has moved on, but the Ladies just keep on.
Sometimes you’ll see them in a chorus line, all leaning to one side, like they are ready to do a group shuffle-tap. Then there are the rogue Ladies, who just decided to show up in front of a cattle fence or pose next to a pile of rocks.
Certainly they’re not everyone’s favorite flower. Some find them quite gaudy and simply too bare without any foliage. And their perfume can be a problem. Sugary and cloying, the Naked Lady scent is best left outdoors to blow in the wind. Bring them in the house and the smell is as overwhelming as too much talcum in a hot yoga class.
But the sight of them is sweet. This week I stopped to admire one regal bloom on a bluff above Bodega Bay. It was a rare clear day and she waved to me from her perch in the brown grass. A fog horn wailed to say that darned old chilly marine layer is probably coming back.
But a lady, if she’s wise, knows to live in the moment.