Acceptance

To be in the process or act of accepting is a widely varied thing. It can mean gladly or formally receiving something or someone. Acceptance might demonstrate an embracing of what is. It can also signify being resigned and enduring patiently. Gardening teaches me about every aspect of acceptance.

Resigning myself and enduring stem from the limits, catastrophies, and disappointments every gardener experiences.

Climate, soil, changing seasons, budget, and energy all establish limits for me. Customarily, I try to ignore, push, or overcome any limit I bump into. After awhile (sometimes hours, sometimes years), there are just some limits I have to accept. Time is one of them. I can’t seem to spend all the time I want to tending the garden or the Gardenhood. There are, after all, only twenty-four hours in a day, and I have to attempt to sleep for more of them than I care to. Then, of course, there is all that time spent on necessary and pleasurable self-care: cooking, eating, bathing, reading, and making real human contact. Oh, yeah, and the other necessaries: laundry, house cleaning, paying bills, and that little thing called work. I can make the most of each hour, but I simply can’t make more hours. I grudgingly accept that.

Hail leveling a garden surely qualifies as a castrophe. Earwigs destroying the zinnias is a great disappointment. But what can you do? If you’re going to garden, you have to feel the losses and carry on.

Carrying on has the potential of alchemy. The dross of drudgery is transformed by an unexpected beauty. You drag yourself out to water or weed before the heat sprawls into the day, and you discover that the lemon-maroon lilies, yellow species hollyhocks, blue butterfly delphinium, purple verbena bonariensis, pink Meideland roses, and scarlet bee balm, are exactly the hues of dawn, hope, and welcoming you wanted in the garden. Even if you don’t know how to photograph it, your peripheral vision puts it all together, and you delight in it all the same.

A neighbor walks by and tells you how beautiful the garden is, and you happily receive the compliment.

A month ago, when the kind, generous, amazingly creative, and energetic Kevin — author of the versatile, very inspiring, lovely, sunny, and spirited, Nitty Gritty Dirt Man — nominated Gardenhood for the One Lovely Blog Award, I had another occasion to learn about acceptance.

To formally accept his nomination, I had to thank Kevin — which I did immediately and somewhat breathlessly. I also had to provide a link to his site from my own, which had already been done in Gardenhood’s blogroll.

Next I had to find 10 blogs to nominate for the same award, notify them, and post links to their blogs. I’ll do that before I close.

Finally, the stipulations of my acceptance include posting 7 random facts about myself. I’ll see what I can do.

In order to know if accepting the nomination was right for me, I had to understand what the award really means. There are quite a few of these awards. Plain and simply, they are utilized to increase bloggers’ awareness of each other and boost readership. That being said, I so admire Kevin and so adore the blogs I’m nominating, that I decided to accept the rules and  the award.

So here are the blogs I’d like to nominate. (You can read this as: These are blogs I really enjoy and am glad to recommend). Please give them a look-see. Then, while you’re at it, have a look at any of the blogs listed in the blogroll.

Hmm. Now for those 7 random facts:

  1. I was born at 2:51 PM.
  2. Dwight D. Eisenhower was President.
  3. I’ve lived in 6 states or provinces within 3 countries.
  4. I lost a toenail diving from a boulder into a swimming hole. The water was so cold, I didn’t notice the loss until I got out.
  5. The third time I read Anna Karenina, I was twenty years old and on a concert tour in still-communist Romania.
  6. My first book, Into the Fullness of Being, was published by my dear, dear friend, Robb Heckel. Of the 200 copies, all but a few found their way to people’s book shelves (even some people I’d never met).
  7. When I was a Freshman at Macalester College, I smoked a pipe — tobacco, of course.

Once, again, thank you, Kevin. It’s been both an honor and an adventure.

Post Script: While dragging the hose through a long Saturday morning, my thoughts rooted in the notion of acceptance, a song slowly unpacked itself from memory. “Come gather round people, wherever you roam, and admit that the waters around you have grown. Accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone. If your time to you is worth savin…” I include it here (especially for you, Jim, who way back in May, requested more music).

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The Phoenix

A part of me thinks: the Pheonix isn’t a bird. A part of me thinks: the Phoenix must surely be a plant. Maybe all plants. Maybe a tree.

On July 5th I got a call. “Could you come and assess the fire damage to our garden? We’ll be here all day tomorrow.” Of course. Yes. Look for me in the afternoon.

I needed to go to the burn. I needed to have a reason to go, but I needed to go.  I needed to be present to the charred, the changed, the aftermath, and to the spared.

As I wound up Flying W Ranch Road, sights I’d seen over and again in the media stood there for real. In the neighborhood where I had once worked and my friend, Susan, had once lived, 149 homes lay heaped into their foundations. My heart rose to my throat in a cry.

Swinging left up Chuckwagon, I faced the massive stand of blackened Ponderosa.

Along Linger Way, a cul-de-sac overlooking the city, no house obscured the view.

At the top of Wilson Road, on the west side and flanking the Flying W, three houses gone. One unscathed. I stopped and walked up to the one still standing. Towering Ponderosa, softly whistling in a breeze, but brown.

All around the house, every tree and shrub, every perennial, every annual, brown. It was like walking into a sepia toned photo.

Ten days earlier, on June 26, a firestorm swept down the rugged hills above this home. A blast of heat traveling 65 miles per hour flash-dried leaves, needles, stem tips, flowers. A rain of embers pelted the garden. I can imagine them sizzling in the damp lawn. When they fell into a Mahonia here, an errant juniper there, even the shredded tree mulch, they flared. A patch of Himalayan Border Jewel, next to the front walk blackened. The home, however, had been well-mitigated against wildfire. Firefighters were able to douse the flares.

Gathering my wits, I examined each plant, closely. As I opened smokey stems and peered under sooty leaves, I saw green. After only three douses from the hose, new leaves pushed out along stems. Rosettes flourished on the soil.

I was reminded of entering a garden some days after the first frost had paid a nipping visit. Of course, that’s why we sometimes refer to a frost or freezer burn. The desiccating effect is so similar.

What is the appropriate response to such plant trauma?

For the shrubs and trees, it’s quite simple. Wait and water. Go around every day and applaud each new leaf. Stand in awe. Once they are truly into recovery, maybe a month after the heat blast, prune away what didn’t survive. I’ll probably give them all a gentle foliar tonic of seaweed extract, too.

For perennials and annuals: I cut away the dead. The annuals got a weak fertilization. And I filled the gaps and replaced the perished with gorgeous new stuff. Out of pure gratitude, the homeowners agreed to let everything which had survived stay, even if it will be weeks before they produce another blossom.

Astonishingly, none of the hummingbird feeders, glazed ceramic containers, nor faux terracotta tubs were damaged by the heat.

Behind the upright fuchsia, a red star cordyline and magenta geranium, though somewhat skeletal, are growing like Ethyl Merman sings, full tilt: Everything’s coming up roses.

From the destruction and the ash.

The Phoenix must truly be a plant.

Fire and No Rain

A week ago, fire sprouted in Waldo Canyon, a beloved wild spot just west of the city.

I was running errands when the fire made itself known. Actually, I had escaped from ridiculous heat to air conditioned grocery and hardware stores, and was lingering . Throughout the afternoon, the worrisome plume of smoke towered, threatened, grew.

Sunday morning, as I hung out the last of the wash, bits of ash daintily pelted my skin. It struck me as absurd to be tending mundane business while an apocalypse bloomed. By 10 AM, the day’s heat had already prickled the grass and gripped my spirit. Anxiety, grief, and morning temperatures in the 90’s made a debilitating triplet. I had to nap.

When I pulled myself back to productivity, I found a delightful announcement in my email. Kevin, author of the irresistable NittyGrittyDirtMan, had nominated gardenhood for the One Lovely Blog Award. I was touched and overjoyed. I wanted to pounce immediately on my responsibilities for accepting. Making the bed (the sheets, first on the line, had dried almost before the last of the wash was hung), sweeping the long-neglected floors, dusting smokey grit from all the furniture, getting ready for the work week, and another wave of heat and worry-driven exhaustion took me away from the pleasure.

People were evacuated from the neighborhood nearest the fire, among them, friends. A family of five, away on an outing when the evacuation order went out, took shelter in the house being remodeled next door. I carried over towels, soap, toilet paper. Offered my shower. The fire got more real

Over night, sleep thieves: smoke, the house unable to cool until just before dawn.

Monday. Seven hours, in temperatures that pushed past 95, tending an exquisite but very demanding garden. A few hours getting water down on my own. Another nap. No more than a wishful glance at writing.

Tuesday. At 10:30 my client of 13 years surprised me with a first. “Cheryl,” she said, “you have to go home!”

“Why?” I asked.  Had something happened with the fire?

“It’s already 91 degrees, and it’s only 10:30. That’s 9:30 by the sun. It’s too hot. And with the smoke, you shouldn’t be working in this.” But I had a few things which are weekly imperatives, and I finished those before I went home and slept for two hours.

Late Tuesday afternoon. Sirens screamed across the city.

A little after 4 PM, during a press briefing on the fire, a very localized thunderstorm collapsed over the wildfire. Sixty-five mile an hour wind gusts drove flames down hill into residential neighborhoods. That’s down hill. Into homes. Evacuations were quickly ordered. Panicked people filled the streets. By nightfall, 32,500 people were sheltered with friends or family, in hotels, in evacuation centers. Among them dear clients and cherished friends.

I was mesmerized by live coverage, streamed to my computer, until midnight. Hot, smokey house. No sleep.

No work on Wednesday. The folks whose gardens I tend in the middle of the week were all evacuated.

By the end of the day on Thursday, the count was official: 346 homes lost. Among those homes, nearly three-quarters of a subdivision called Parkside. I once helped maintain the landscape along its perimeter. There, also, the home of my friend and writing partner, Susan,  reduced to ash. Books, heirlooms, a cheerful embrace of a kitchen, big and satisfying container gardens, gone, gone, gone. And her level of loss and effort to re-create a home is repeated 345 times. It’s beyond my grasp.

Parkside after the fire.

All I know to do for her is witness. Hear her stories. Cheer her day-by-day accomplishments. Be a safe harbor when the crashes happen. She, on the other hand, has astounded and inspired me. Homeless and able to fit all her worldly goods in a car, she keeps writing. She’s taking care of business. She has an entire domestic life to rebuild and is assessing and making choices. She has an eye to the horizon and the opportunities that will present themselves. Even as she feels a cascade of emotions and watches a non-stop replay in her mind, she exudes a sense of adventure and shines with hope.

I’m humbled.

And I’m utterly grateful for Susan’s example. Grateful for a long list of blessings, miracles, and concerted efforts, as well.

  • Leadership that has cooperated and coordinated a successful engagement with the fire.
  • Firefighters who have rallied, come from all over, worked with incredible tenacity and skill.
  • For the houses that didn’t burn.
  • The city had a disaster evacuation plan, and it worked.
  • Countless people, far and wide have lent material, moral, and spiritual help.
  • The flat corner lot with its chainlink fence are far from harm’s way.
  • Even so, loved ones have checked in, just to make sure.
  • And when the air clears a bit and my mind settles down, I’ll have the One Lovely Blog Award nomination to respond to and accept.

A last bit of gratitude, which may be of interest to those of you who’ve been following the story: three and a half weeks after the hail, Julia Child is thriving.