back home-home, my sweet momma had planted bleeding hearts on the east side of our house. there were four-o-clocks there as well; old-fashioned flowers in her garden. we didn’t have any fancy plants – it was otherwise hosta and day lilies, rose of sharon and hydrangea, azalea and forsythia. but, in thinking back, i love her sensibility of these old-timey plants, steadfast through the ages, and anytime i see or plant any of them, i think of my momma.
our trail takes us through the woods. the honeysuckle lines the dirt path and its sweet aroma wafts around us. there’s pink and white, both. and, as i glance over, there is something that makes me think of my momma’s bleeding hearts. we’d plant them in our backyard but for the fact that they are toxic and we don’t want to take any chances with dogdog. so simply being reminded of them will have to suffice.
maybe today we’ll go and get a few flowers at the nursery. we need some to put in a planter on the old chair out back and in the retired firepit vessel. i suppose it’s time – already! – to pick up our basil plant and the cherry tomatoes we love to have on our potting stand. we are heading into summer soon and caprese salads and skewers are beckoning.
honeysuckle is a symbol of pure happiness. i’m pretty sure that four-o-clocks and hosta and day lilies and rose of sharon and hydrangea and azalea and forsythia are as well, though i haven’t looked them up and i’m guessing there’s more meaning for each.
for me, they are walking in my growing-up yard. for me, they are my momma, bent over the garden, deadheading the four-o-clock blossoms and loosening the leathery seeds. for me, they are the light purple buds of the hosta heated by the sun – the ones planted by the garage just off the one-car driveway – just begging for tiny hands to pop them at the end of the afternoon when they were filled with air. for me, they are the giant flowers of my sister’s name (though spelled differently, she would quickly add). for me, they are sitting up in the maple tree with my notebook, writing, gazing down at the garden on the shady side of the house. for me, they are big bunches of dried hydrangeas in the fall. for me, they are delicate hearts lined up on a stem, for i was always fascinated by these. for me, they are so much more than old-fashioned flowers.
for me, they are comfort. for me, they are like old friends.
the dandy dandelions are baaaaack and we are celebrating them! i cannot help but smile looking at dandelions. i have a rich history with them. i suppose many moms do.
so, for many reasons – the bees included – we won’t be quiiiite as obsessive about ridding our lawn of them. not to mention, they are stubborn and will likely return despite any attempts to mitigate them. i have found taproots of great length underground – dandelions aspiring to be large carrots, channeling the subterranean tenacity of root vegetables.
but – in the end – even with this year’s gargantuan effort to have nice grass and earn the respect of the GrassKing, we need our pollinators and we need flowers for tiny toddlers to pick. so, we will dial it back a little bit on total eradication and live in the memories of fists full of dandelions.
this is david’s year. the year that his grass (aka our grass) might – just might – even a tad – a smidge – a skosh – a teeny-weeny-yellow-polka-dot-bikini-bit – look like dan’s.
dan is The GrassKing. his lawn is manicured and beautiful. it feels lovely beneath your feet and, crosshatch-cut, looks lovely as well. tidy and healthy and green – all the things all those brochures tout – the ones that arrive in our mailbox, tucked into our front door, rubberbanded onto the doorknob of the screen, stuffed under the welcome mat. there are many-many-many companies out there that believe we need their help.
we don’t need their help.
we just need dan.
and so, we wait for instructions. he swings by to examine our poor front yard, post-demolition by the company that eradicated the lead water pipes and everything else in its excavation. he texts, “looks pretty good.” we breathe a sigh. luckily, he also texts, “call me.” he is our grass-hero and we love him for it.
you might think that you know all the special devices and products for lawncare. all kinds of spreaders and seeders and sprinklers and milorganite mixes and shade/sun helpers and weed and feed and lawnmowers and edgers. goodness!
the one thing you might not be aware of? the meat thermometer.
the soil must be exactly right for overseeding. and the only way to know is to set those grilling steaks aside.
and today – despite the dirt and the dried stems, vestiges of life-gone-past – despite the cold and the snow and the ice and the rain and all the elements that have torn into this plant and the critters that have refuged under its branches – despite the sun and the drought and no added nutrients and almost no attention whatsoever – small clusters of brassica-like buds have sprouted out of the ground.
they have persevered, they have sought rebirth, they have wiped away their tears of disappearance and their underground fallow and they have risen up, one tiny millimeter at a time, unnoticed until now, shoots of green in all the brown.
they have not been considered marvelous. they are not rare. they are not exquisite blooms, fragile petals, filmy tendrils connecting them to their lifesource. instead, they are curled cabbages, tightly wound and unwinding.
they are a little bit haughty at the spring and its sweet-time-taking. they are persistent, resilience at their core, hardy, paying no mind to the rules of march or april or, really, any season. they wait for no one to move the leaves and debris of winter. they are independent.
this new year of growth, this new season of their sedum-lives is pushing out of the good earth – despite all odds. they keep on keeping on, mustering up next and next, pushing aside all doubt, surely panting in their phoenix.
it would appear that a giant angel was hula-hooping in the clouds and dropped their hula hoop, which landed in the upper branches of a tree at the botanic garden. or, perhaps, that a spaceship -with no defined interior- had dropped down for a visit. or, maybe, there was a filming of sesame street’s “the letter ‘o'” about to do another take. brightly lit hula hoops of neon light suspended in trees, they cast an eerie glow onto the frozen ground, onto the path. michael bublé sang “walking in a winter wonderland” and we found ourselves inside the magic.
there is definitely something to wandering paths amongst many other people all oohing and ahhing. i had vowed to myself to leave my camera in my purse, but it wasn’t minutes before i failed at this. there were just so many colors and textures to remember, so dreamy. vast installations of creative lighting.
we had hoped to go. the ticket cost was a little prohibitive but we decided – when we woke and new year’s day was to be a little more mild than it had been – to splurge.
we were stunned even at the entrance to the garden, the trees wrapped in lights, every single branch and twig gleaming. we moseyed along the path, pulling over to let groups of people by so that we could be somewhat alone as we strolled.
but this wasn’t a silent and solitary hike in the woods. it was a performance piece we all took in together. each person’s glee added to ours and, dropping all expectations and all analysis of how-do-they-do-that, we were caught up in the captivating displays.
we already have a plan for next year. there are snacks and beverages and fire pits, places to linger, places to immerse. i could stand and watch the water and light “all i want for christmas” over and over and over. i allowed myself to wonder what a garden would look like lit to a piece of my own music.
we talked about our favorite displays driving the backroads. though spaceship fantasies are not my thing, hula hoops definitely are in my wheelhouse and the hulahooplights made my list. by the time we got home we realized that we had listed all of the displays we had seen, each design extraordinary, a celebration of the marriage of color and light and and sound and garden.
our late-night snack had a different air. the gift of being outside in the cold. the gift of beauty. the gift we had given ourselves – permission to splurge a little. a new year and its new intentions.
“we’re guided by the spaces in-between the facts,” she stated. and then continued, “instinct, faith…”
standing outside, inside the beauty of creative lighting, feeling as if we were somewhere between graphic and real, it was easy to wrap around these words. the spaces in-between, the rests between the notes, the white space, even the kerning. all the space in-between counts.
the moments of instinct – action based on sheer gut. the moments of faith – action based on exposed heart.
joey is back. every now and again he is posting a wild country backpacking trip. we are somewhat relieved to see him again; he hadn’t been around in a long time and we weren’t the only ones who seemed worried. we watched him pull out maps and trail books and choose the space in-between all of it, the wilderness through which he could instinctively find his way. joey coconato’s guiding star is not conventional. maybe that’s why we love to watch him.
the fulcrum of balance in daily life is a challenge. balancing the very real needs of living – paying bills, staying healthy, doing good work – with the very real needs of living – the moments, the recognition of time flying by, the autograph we leave behind. in-between the stuff of accumulated years we seek the space of minimal. in-between the daily barrage of tasks we seek the space of quiet. in-between the challenges and troubles we seek the space of grace, of peace.
there is the day we stand in the kitchen – each arguing for our “side” of the story, full-steam ahead fueled by accumulated stress and anxiety – when we look out the window and it has begun to snow. suddenly, there is air, a little space. suddenly the facts-of-the-matter seem less important. suddenly we realize that this moment of discontent counts too – and, just as suddenly, we realize we are tossing the heart out with the angst.
we read an article written by a philosopher/psychologist in finland. he referenced that “for five years in a row, finland has ranked no. 1 as the happiest country in the world”. since david and 20 are constantly trying to convince me to move to finland, i thought it in my best interest to read this article. surely it would shed light on why those sisu folks are so darn happy.
there were three basic tenets. the first – “we don’t compare ourselves to our neighbors.” the second – “we don’t overlook the benefits of nature.” the third – “we don’t break the community circle of trust.”
just reading those made me think – for pretty obvious reasons – that the united states of america is doomed to unhappiness. i sighed. it would seem that finns walk in the spaces in-between more than we all do. I am hoping my quarter-finnish ancestry will help me list that way.
so how do we find the balance point, i wonder, that space between.
walking at the chicago botanic garden – in the middle of graphics and lights and magic and real-live-nature called “lightscape” – helped. the way home was a smorgasbord of holiday lights and displays. we passed lake bluff’s stunning square, all green and blue and twinkling white lights.
we arrived home, grateful to have taken the space in-between everything else – the worries, the busy, the not-enoughs – to appreciate awe without measure, to be outside on a cold winter’s night, to delight in what we saw surrounded by strangers who delighted with us.
at long last, there is not an unsightly mound in our front yard and our grass is actually growing. it is astounding what a little attention will yield.
we will never quality for the lawn olympics, but neither will we get the worst-on-the-block award. we bought a used edger and are defining the daylily garden with vintage bricks that match the old brick wall behind it. we used to have a beautiful old brick patio up by the front door – back in the day – but had to remove it in order to have the (non-disclosed-at-the-time-of-sale) underground oil tank removed. i’ll not forget the day we found a 7′ stick in the garage with carved inch and foot marks. we wandered the yard and discovered the cap, hidden in plain view, that spelled out the epa no-no. our poor yard has been through upheaval more than once.
and so, here we go. the backyard and the frontyard have consumed us this summer. but we are making headway. yup. no medals but it makes us just a little bit happy watching both flourish. just a little attention.
we were supposed to have company. it has been a rarity these last couple years to share our space with anyone, so we were really, really looking forward to it. visits with people we haven’t seen in a year, two years. coffee-sitting or wine-chatting out on the deck, slow walks along the lakefront, catching up. long-awaited.
it wasn’t to be.
just before, we had attended a small gathering – outside. we were alerted a couple days later that we were exposed to covid. guidelines are such that it was then our responsibility – which we don’t take lightly – to isolate from others so as to avoid being contagious, whether or not we were also ill. we have respected this pandemic and its resulting health guidelines from the start, so we did the only responsible thing. we cancelled our guests, two sets of them.
to say we were disappointed is to underplay the isolation of these times. we were stunned. the ever-present facebook shows people off gallivanting on vacations and cruises, at disneyworldland, at parties. and we, abiding by what had been outlined as ways to protect others, were alone. in truth, we were a little ticked.
and so, we dedicated ourselves to crossing every appendage we’d stay healthy and working on the backyard. the new fence has created a blank canvas and we wanted to re-plant and re-organize our tiny sanctuary. i began studying plants and sun and shadow and height and breadth and movement and placement.
we moved the old hostas. they were along that back fence line. it hasn’t been a good year for hostas, dan told us, and we’d have to agree. these intrepid plants, we knew, would bounceback, so we transplanted them next to barney and under the white fir pine. i wanted a few hosta for under the blue spruce, but i wanted elegans hosta, rich green not variegated, huge heart-shaped leaves, gorgeous texture that will share that space with tufting blue sedge grasses.
we went to the nursery. it’s all outside so we felt confident we were not exposing anyone and we spent a few glorious hours wandering in and out among the plants, dreaming. that’s where we fell in love with that little stand of quaking aspen. (pause for a moment…)
i took a zillion photographs, not only of grasses and plants, but of the accompanying tags of information, so that we could go home and i could research and develop a plan for the new landscaping we would be planting. i had my work cut out.
i made several trips to the nursery, asking questions and moving slowly through, glancing at my camera at the pictures i had of our backyard space, pondering. after a week – sans people – we went and picked up the first of the grasses, three switchgrasses, tall with plumes just peeking out. they would join the hardy pampas we had already purchased, hoping they would grow tall against the fence.
busying ourselves with greenery helped the sting of losing the opportunity to see loved ones, but not entirely. though grateful each day to not take ill, we felt gypped.
a few days ago we added a couple dwarf fountain grasses. their flouncy-ness is charming. we brought home a little zebra dwarf silvergrass and a purple fountain grass for contrast. after a few days of studying placement, we’ll actually dig holes, take them out of their pots and plant them. and there’s space for a small rock garden too, perfect for this thready heart.
it’s the end of the week and now more days have passed since our exposure. though we went through ten home tests – to make sure we were moving through a ridiculously long incubation period – we have mixed feelings.
we know that in cancelling our company we did the right thing, for we would not want to inadvertently infect them or anyone they would, in turn, see.
but we remain just as hungry – we are just as longing – for a bit more normal as we had been. we’ve all sacrificed much in these two plus years to protect each other. we – the two of us – have limited our restaurant-visits to less than two hands, have stayed back from concerts or festivals we wanted to attend, have masked in shops and stores, risking the dirty-look ire of others who have simply moved on. and we have not had the chance to really see many others – to laugh in our pjs together, to get in each other’s way in the kitchen, to spill out stories, interrupting and laughing.
doing the right thing is sometimes painful. especially when opportunity is few and far-between.
this weekend we’ll sit out on the deck and gaze out toward our new fence. in the early morning of the days i’ll water all the new plants, greeting them each time. and maybe, later in the day, the new grasses will catch an early evening breeze and tilt toward us, billowing. i imagine they will be thanking us for bringing them home. birds and more birds will attend to the feeders. squirrels and chipmunks will scamper, chasing each other looking for fallen seed, high-tight-roping across the yard. dogdog, a little older and more tolerant of little friends in his yard, will lay on the deck watching with us.
surely this will attract the attention of agriculture lovers near and far. we – the tiniest farmers of them all – are growing corn.
i would like to say that we have deliberately planted corn, in an effort to have a cob or two, but this isn’t the case. the chippies are likely the generation alpha planters; they are messy at the birdfeeder and, while they are stuffing their little cheeks of birdseed, their tiny paws are flailing and birdseed is flying. they planted the corn and we were, frankly, astonished to identify it. in good-corn-fashion, i’m guessing it was knee-high-by-the-fourth-of-july, only we didn’t notice, as it blended into the ornamental grasses under the feeder. it’s nice to know our soil is good enough for corn.
i looked up if we could actually eat it, and stumbled into the georgia gardener walter reeves who said that “the seed used in bird food is delectable to birds, squirrels and chipmunks.” but “if the seeds sprout, you’ll get more of the same.” to his knowledge, “all of these plants would be edible by humans. but you might not want to eat them, because the varieties used in birdseed might not be digestible by humans. leave them for the birds,” he recommends.
nevertheless, we consider it a win. whether we were passively or actively farming, it grew and we are proud.
it is all beginning to make sense to me. all that time my sweet momma and poppo spent in arboretums and planting fields. all the time they spent watching the birds out their back windows. all the time they simply spent with each other, appreciating the idyllic opportunities that nature and outdoors and together bring.
i am guessing that somewhere – on another plane not too far away – my dad is watching. maybe he’s hanging out with columbus, who was pretty expert at the iowa-corn-in-which-he-was-raised. my mom is rolling her eyes at them, while they’re chuckling at the corn in our garden and maybe scoffing a tiny bit at walter. they’re paying no attention to her eyerolls.
they’re getting their yellow-plastic-tipped-corn-cob-skewers ready.
we have our own personally-funded go-fund-me for this dream. it buys time for the bigger dream.
the tiny stand of quaking aspen trees beckoned to us. it was instant love. at first sight, no less. tall, willowy, silvery-white bark, the stand transported us to high mountain forests, to trails in breckenridge, to the first ahhh moments coming over the pass.
we took a breath and asked the price.
the nursery is an oasis. in the middle of our town, we sank into it for a few hours, just strolling about and imagining. these trees brought us to center.
our real landscaping need, right now, is for tall grasses along our new fence. we studied each variety and its characteristics – upright and erect or billowing and rounded, low to the ground or reaching to the sky with plumes, feathery in the light. i visited again during the week, asking questions and spending an inordinate amount of time staring at the aspen trees, photographing from different angles and surprised, soaking, by a full-on sprinkler. we’ll go back and purchase a few grasses.
we’ve run the numbers and the stand of aspen must wait. our tiny aspen tree, delicately brought home from the high mountains, aptly named “breck”, is in our backyard and would love the mentoring of a taller, more established stand. with us five years now, we don’t want breck to feel lonely. but, numbers don’t lie and a stand of aspen, along with planting it, is a little bit expensive. the immediate-gratification toddlers in us want it now, but the adults know it needs to wait. there are other priorities. sigh.
we’ll visit the aspen again. and i’ll visit it while david is working, again. and we’ll save up and keep on designing what we want the next phase of our backyard, our sanctuary, to look like.
in future days, our – still-imagined – tiniest “pando” (latin: i spread) of aspen in our yard will grow and remind us of the interconnectivity of all. the canopy-to-come will bring us to places we cherish, dreams beyond the dreams. we will keep saving, a deliberate stand-fund.