Alright, I said to Willie, the silver-maned terrier, you’ve been stuffed in the car and hauled around to work sites too many days this week. This morning, how ‘bout we walk wherever you want and you set the pace?

He bit the dangled leash and gave it a shake.

Our parameters agreed on, we set off down the walk and through the front gate.

He trotted for a while until he realized he had some serious catching up to do on neighborhood dog news. He dallied near junipers reading every canine note posted in the last month. Particular clumps of newly greening grass required a nosey inspection of each blade. Between message boards he followed the zagging com trails of recent passers by.

In the stop and stroll, I noticed a swaying feeling. Down certain stretches of sidewalk I sensed vague unease, and my mind gnawed on the list of client gardens still awaiting spring cleaning. Other stretches of walk relaxed me, and I listened to bird song or took in the long view to the mountains. Relatively sure there were no mountain lions stalking the neighborhood, I paid closer attention.

The discovery was almost embarrassing. Where turf had been sliced from the edges of the walk, I breathed easy. Where turf spilled onto cement my diaphragm gripped .

Good heavens, why?

Most any friend will tell you: I’m certainly not a neat freak. Even so, I admit to a thing about edges. I like them clean and well defined, especially in the garden.

Maybe it’s a throw-back to my first real perennial garden in Northern Minnesota thirty years ago. It was off to the side of the drive from the barely graveled road to the barely finished house. It was surrounded by grassy meadow, the remains of a farm reverting to forest via Juneberries and alder. I battled horsetail and boot sucking clay. Beyond improving soil, most of my effort went into fending off encroachment. My husband put a short post and wire fence around the garden, like parenthesis around words in a sentence, just so I could find it.

Or, maybe my compelling need for edges has something to do with things learned in graduate school: The human need to differentiate, the difficulties in identity and relationships that result from poor or violated boundaries, the confidence engendered by clear ones.

I once had a friend in Seattle who was so open and direct when stating her desires and parameters, there was never any need to worry or guess. Her friends and family could rest and trust.

Rest and trust are two things I want to do in the garden.

So I set to.


I edged the walks from front gate to front porch and from back porch to shed. Walk could be itself and garden seemed all the happier for it.

Caught up in the swell of liberation I weeded the beds and raked the lawns. I freed The horizontal plane at the base of the garden, the boundary between earth and sky, from fallen twigs wind borne progeny. Standing back to observe, I found the results almost too subtle to see, and yet the space felt better, like the day you wake up and realize the cold you’ve been suffering is over, your body no longer occupied by foreign invaders.

And then there sprang up a fence. I commissioned it from a friend. He salvaged recycled panels of discarded cedar privacy screens and ran it from the shed to the neighbor’s fence in the back corner of the yard. It marks a boundary between garden and utility area. Within its enclosure, there lies a space in which to corral all the stuff that can stay outside and yet no matter how well organized it is will never look delightful, never really be part of the garden

cedar fence

When I look at the fence across the back yard, I feel calm and delighted. My eye accepts the invitation to rest when it reaches the weathered boards. Their dark, flat plane lets me see more clearly the lawn, the apple tree, and the room sized cotoneaster before it. When I step through the gate, entering the practical area, I feel accomplished and businesslike. I survey the empty pots, crates, carts and barrows. This I can manage. The messy kid gets her own room.

Ah, Robin

A little while back, a friend and I reconnected for the first time since college. In our exchanges of calls and notes, I shared this:

“The early bird catches the worm, they say. And when I was growing up, it was always said to make us believe that in order to be ambitious and successful, one must be an early riser. Later in life, I realized it was also a folksy way to identify the robin who is compelled by his nature to sing up the sun and eat worms (the latter of which may be observed at whatever time of day he’s hungry). This makes the robin no more ambitious than the eagle I once watched roosting in a dark fir, preening and stretching her wings as the sun touched them. I am more like the eagle in this regard. While I love listening to the robin as I slowly wake up and consider my dreams, he and I have different jobs to do and different diets.”

Today was my most favorite of Spring days. I woke to robin song and a blanching sky. Because the sun rises earlier and earlier, I relished song and sky, the groggy satisfaction of a full night’s sleep, and plans for the day before swinging my feet out of bed. Yes, thank you, and still only 6:30.

Overnight rain blessed the garden. Enough to darken the mulch and wash the sky into a kept promise of sweetness. I tucked plants, thinned from a client’s garden, into the mammoth parking median before leaving in plenty of time for work. Clouds fleeced the summit of our mountain. The wind stayed calm to gently breezing. I was comfy in an old cotton sweater from Willie walk to Willie walk. Sweaters like this and days like this are like the best of friends.

If there is a name for this character of Spring, I’d call it Forsythia. She is in cheerful, abundant array. All around her, just opened leaves and swelling flower buds haze most other branches, and the scale has tipped toward Summer. This is the day we understand that summer will win the wrestling match.

Taking a different route to my usual Thursday garden, I passed a redbud in full bloom. What is that color? The center of chocolate covered cherries, raspberry sherbet, cassis meringue. I can’t quite put my tongue on it. Even so, I pulled over and alerted two friends by phone. Something so delicious is even better shared.

In our own back yard, ruddy and jagged leaves point toward earth along the arching branches of the room-sized cotoneaster. Willie barked a tall coyote down the sidewalk at dawn, then stayed outside to make sure he didn’t return. Yes, thank you, a Forsythia day, which robin sang into being.

The Edge of Calm

Willie the terrier is happy I’ve finally perched in front of the computer. Temperatures pushed 80 today, and I pushed through every urge to relax. He, of course, had many urges to relax as well, but must keep track of me.

This is the end of a week in which I almost lost track of “firsts”: First tulips, aptly Tulipa kaufmanniana “The First”; first daffodil, a long-term resident in the median; first blues and purples from Chionodoxia and giant crocus; first Pasque flower, although Easter is weeks away; first day with Rose back to work, despite a cold so terrible she reported she’d have to feel better to die; first leaflets on so many shrubs – especially the bower-like Cotoneaster in the back yard; the brilliant yellow forsythia, first shrub to bloom; apricots in the alley, first of the fruit trees in flower; first appearances of rhubarb, delphinium, allium, buds in the front porch tulips; and the first supper eaten outside.

Despite what seems like an enormous amount of activity, spring is still a wrestling match. Spikes of cold followed by warming trends, insufferable winds. All of it creating peril for the life which must emerge. I race to clear gardens of debris and clock crucial billable hours only to get jerked indoors by the chain of inclemency. Rough handling all around.

It occurred to me that if the Inuit can have names for every type and condition of snow, Coloradans might extend our vocabulary for Spring. Perhaps if the season was longer, or our lives depended on such an intimate diversity of knowledge, our perceptions would be keener, and the language arise. Yet another bubble of thought formed in an excess of labor and released in the ethereal exhaustion at the end of a day.

At the end of this day, I lifted Willie to a spot on the vintage bent bamboo and aqua vinyl couch on the front porch. Then, I turned on the sprinkler and sat beside him with a deep bowl of soup. Strains of John Lennon’s “Watching the Wheels” hummed to the rhythm of pattering water, “I’m just sittin’ here watching the sprinkler go round and round…” And watching the sky, knowing just the moment when, behind the house, Pikes Peak began consuming the sun. The overhead blue faded. The breeze faltered and cooled.

Perception dogs me in this week of leapfrogging firsts and mind-altering fatigue. The muffintop puffs over the skinny jeans, yet the skinny jeans zip. I cartwheel over an apparent abundance of new, exciting, and colorful life, yet the objective lens of my camera finds a patchy array. The apricot in full bloom sends thrills to my marrow, yet it abides in an alley with dumpsters, power lines, and cars, and there is a freeze coming.

When the fever of Spring no longer sends one into a mating frenzy, the soul burns with another yearning. There is no time to lose. See things as they are yet find beauty.

For more than a year, I have admired the tenacity of some unattended iris, clinging to the corner of a garage on the alley. It stands near a rental unit in a four-plex, and I imagined an undaunted gardener compelled to plant them and equally compelled to change homes and leave them. I wondered how long they’d bloomed there. Why choose such a bleak spot? Were they planted in the last decade to see reliable afternoon rains? I also fantasized about liberating them. Last fall someone weed whacked them while still green. Last week, someone laid a cement block on them, which I moved aside. This morning I found them uprooted and tossed, the newly emerged leaves still turgid. Clearly, someone despised them, either hating iris on principle or thinking they were weeds.

I gathered each chucked rhizome, and as Willie walked me on, I rocked between outrage at the abuse of beautiful plants and acerbic glee that someone spared me the work of digging them. My plant crime forensic skills aside, I also remember that violence against iris isn’t the only kind perpetrated near by. How can I ignore voices raised in drunken argument, a little girl gruffly led away by her dad from a spill off her bike, patrol cars arriving down the street with sirens blaring. That all of this awareness fills my thoughts within footsteps of the misprized iris illuminates the shifting ground of perception, the unsettled beliefs and experiences of a middle-aged woman walking a neighborhood into fresh identity.

There is no time to lose. See life as it is. Intend beauty.

In the hours since I began feeling my way through this writing, Willie has shifted positions without waking, keeping himself supple, not allowing the sediments of daily process or old age to settle in hip, shoulder, or spine. He dreams, feet paddling, eyebrows twitching. Twice I heard then saw his tail wag, swatting the canvas covered pillow.

Rest well, Willie. Tomorrow, I’ll plant evicted iris, and I need you to watch and remind me that I owe us both some rest.