Reflected glints of sunlight catch my eye and draw my attention to the energetic spring shoots rising through drifted mounds of pebbles and mussel shells along the emergent coastline. Among a sea of young, dagger-shaped iris, the sparkles emanate from a cluster of fuzzy leaves arranged in tight groups, posed like seven-fingered hands, fingers spread upward as if supporting tiny trays of dinner plates. Instead of trays on fingertips, each of these little green hands holds at its center, a single, brilliant, shimmering diamond.
Lupine diamonds first appear when spring rains fall on the first leaves of young Nootka lupine—a native legume named for first peoples who lived on a small island off the western shore of Vancouver Island that also bears their name. The furry, hand-like leaves catch and cradle droplets of rain water which then refract sunlight, rendering the seven leaflets as facets on a liquid gemstone.
As I kneel over these magical, sparkling dewdrops this morning, I am remembering the end of last summer. On my final excursion of the season I knelt trailside, picked a tired and drooping lupine leaf, exhausted from a summer of tirelessly photosynthesizing sunlight into glucose, and handed it to a guest I had just met—an Indian woman named Shikha who was cruising alone through Southeast Alaska.
I gently guided her hand to set the angle of the leaflets just so, and tipped my bottle. Water dripped onto the sagging leaves, ran off, and spilled onto her fingers as a circle of expectant guests watched on. There was to be no diamond that day, but over the course of a four hour hike, Shikha and I became fast friends, talking on the trail about bears and tigers, travel, and India, and making plans.
Diamonds have had a special place in American culture ever since a 1947 De Beers campaign that convinced an emerging middle class that “Diamonds are Forever.” In 1953, surrounded by dashing dancers beneath a human chandelier, Marylin Monroe left us no doubt: “Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend.”
But regardless of what advertisers might claim, the diamonds I am looking at this morning are not forever, and no matter how many blonde dancers in pink evening gowns sing otherwise, I think these ephemeral gems are far better friends than any cut, polished, and overpriced stone, no matter the facets, carats, or clarity.
As a guide, I have picked many diamond encrusted spring lupine leaves, and handed them to many women (and men), and have every time been met with pure glee.
And unlike a gemstone which, long after a relationship has withered might remain a reminder of heartbreak, the memory of a single ephemeral drop of glistening water, long after draining from a lupine leaf, will only glimmer brighter, and more diamond-like with the passage of time.
This winter, less than four months after my failed attempt at giving Shikha a lupine diamond, and just days before a global pandemic stopped travel, and preempted my entire coming season, I traveled to India where I sat on a sand dune with my new friend. We sipped wine while a local band played traditional music by firelight, and a chef cooked local seasonal cuisine just for us.
I suppose some diamonds are forever, but others—arguably, the most precious ones—are fleeting. In my case, it was one that never happened at all that holds more value than any cut stone could ever fetch. I don’t know what appears in her mind’s eye when Shikha remembers the moment I poured water on her hand like a school boy unable to trigger his science fair volcano, but I see a very precious diamond.