Fast Away…

Fast away the old year passes,
Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la!

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We’ve been waiting for this. For snow. For cold. For a productive gray sky and clean north wind. For a sense of something normal, however fleeting.

It’s been somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 and a half months since there was any appreciable moisture from above. October and November netted us a whopping .16″. That’s less than a quarter inch of precipitation in 61 days. Today’s snow might leave behind as much as the last two months’ total, and we’re glad for it.

Long term forecasts show the dry weather continuing. But for one dreamy Sunday, we have a little Winter.

As this old year passes, it’s time to consider what may be passing with it. Drought combined with rising water costs signal the passing of my original vision for the flat corner lot. So, before it has become a fully expressed garden, I will begin taking it in a new direction. With so many questions yet to ask,  Gardenhood goes on.

Hail the new, ye lads and lasses,
Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la!
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Returning

From the center of a clutch of undead and pirates standing with open sacks on my front porch, she chimes, “I’m a princess.”

She takes two fun-sized sweets from the basket. “I see! What is the name of your country, Princess?”

She buckles her brow while the others dip into the stash. “I’m dressed UP as a princess,” she says, unbuckling.

“Oh, I understand. I’m dressed up as a grown-up.”

She buckles up again before turning with the others, chorusing thank you down the walk.

Thus begins the fourth year in the gardenhood.

I could have stayed longer in Switzerland. My welcome was robust, and I was so at home. And yet, when I made my travel plans last summer, I wanted to be back by Hallowe’en. I’m happy feeding the goblins.

Last year, the porch was dark. I took the bag of treats to my dad’s house. My brother answered the door. I’d spent half the day planting tulips, narcissi, crocus, and lilies in a new garden. Or was that the next day?

A crew of painters worked on the trim of the portales framing two sides of the garden. One of the young men listened to his i-phone, the 1930’s sound track to The Wizard of Oz. “If pretty little bluebirds fly…” Uncanny. I remembered Dad telling me what a crush he had on Judy Garland. Dad was big on beautiful girls.  A storm was blowing in.

The year before that, I had to put a gate across the studio door. Willie the terrorizer was definitely against the idea of ghouls and toddling bunnies at the front door. This year, the flat corner lot is spooked by Edward the Handsome, a pure white cat, his sea-green eyes pale in twilight. I don’t remember if Ed hid from the begging mobs at Dad’s door last year. Last night, however, he curled and closed his eyes on the futon.

To say Ed is happy I’ve returned from Switzerland wouldn’t be a stretch. He’s spent the last two nights curled up against me in bed and breathes easy now in my lap, head bowed, ears still, answering my slight movements with tiny grasps of his huge, polydachtyl paws.

While I prepared to depart home for home, Sandy blew up the East coast. Friends on both sides of the pond worried about my flights. There was little room in me for angst as I filled my senses with final views of the village I love. Still, in thoughts that crackled like static, I wondered how new blogging friends, Kevin and Donna, were faring. Last I heard, long-ago sweetheart, Les, was living and golfing on Long Island. High school theatre comrades, Erik and Susie, pursued their dreams in NYC. Was everyone safe? How oddly grounding to have my thoughts returning to these people never-seen or last seen forty years ago as the hours droned by and the plane chased the sun to Chicago.

I’m just about 40 hours back in the gardenhood. Leaves cover lawn and beds, collect in small drifts by the chain-link fence, a perfect haunted look for celebrating the supernatural.

I’ve dragged the hose all around, run the duster over the creaking floor gathering up Ed’s generous offerings of kitty down, unpacked my suitcase, and sorted all the contents. I’ve answered all the emails, generated a few more, filled out my mail-in ballot, and paid my bills. With business taken care of and vampires plied with candy, some not-yet-returned part of my consciousness believed I would wake up this morning under Mucca and Maria’s roof. Like Griffin in Men in Black III, parallel universes converge and separate behind my eyes.

The not yet returned part of me expected to wake up here this morning.

The gardenhood waits for my integrated footsteps.

While part of me still walks here, behind Maria and little Anna-Lu, having just bought 6 loaves of fresh bread from a farm an hour’s walk through woods and pastures.

Admiring Mari-Ursla’s work.

Mumala and Anna-Lu under the fig tree in the last of summer’s sun.

Mo sccots to join them.

Stones garnered from wet places, the colors of fog and glaciers.

In the gardenhood, dry-place stones.

Nebbelmeer, a sea of fog, closed the sky over the valleys, but left the mountains in glory.

Rain.

…turned to snow.

The village disappeared from the rest of the world.

Barely visible beyond the gardenhood, the foothill neighborhood of last summer’s fire.

The newly homeless from Sandy’s wake, like those from the Waldo Canyon fire, sleep in so many hotels, spare bedrooms, and livingroom floors, certain cells of their being wondering where they will awaken. Where does a dream end and life begin?

By grace, no trauma has tossed me home from home. I’m returning by dreamy, gentle stages to the gardenhood. Yes, and though my costume is downy from a lap-full of cat, I’m still dressed up as a grown-up.

Quietly Turning

It rained on the flat corner lot. It rained from before dawn on Wednesday and well into afternoon. It rained slowly, soaking parched soil without overfilling it.

While it rained, I checked things off the indoor to-do list. Each check energized me. While it rained, I played in the kitchen. I roasted beets, yams, onions, and garlic and made a golden soup, the first steamy bowl of this new season.

A golden beet, a carrot, a handful of Sun Gold tomatoes, and chunks of roasted turkey simmered in “Morga”, boullion brought to me last Summer from Switzerland. When the vegetables were just tender, I stepped out in the generous rain to snip leaves: chives, parsley, basil, rosemary. Over the pot on the stove, they were further snipped into bits and fell into the saffron brew.

The few tomatoes, which only formed after the horrendous dry heat of mid-Summer, slowly ripen. Potatoes and onions yellow then fall one-by-one. The native and heirloom beans I planted in May and replanted after the hail in June waited for cooler nights to flower and fruit. We have that in common.

Next week’s weather forecast says “dry.” Mornings will be crisp, afternoons deliriously mellow. The beans have plenty of time to mature, and I can let my own seeds plump, turn starchy with food, and harden into polished plantable dreams.

Out near the room-sized cotoneaster, the sprinkler is quietly turning, arcing rainbowed drops on soil still open from Wednesday’s rain. Like a dervish, I’m turning, too, gathering a centered sense of union and awakening visions. I love the lack of frenzy that Autumn brings, both to life and to the garden. It opens me up to the new.

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.

Now is the Month of Maying

While the USGS predicts a sizzling, dry summer for the gardenhood and far beyond, Spring has been among the earliest and most glorious in memory.

In the long list of glories, the 12 x  12 Cotoneaster in the back yard is dressed in shimmering pearl. The blossoms smell salty and have been dancing with bees, moths, and painted ladies. A fecund celebration.

Weeks ago, when everyone started asking, “Do you think this means we’ll have a hot summer?” I gave long, rambling answers about Colorado’s erratic weather history. Truth is: I thought so, but wasn’t saying.

Why tarnish the pleasure? No matter what lies ahead, spring will end. Don’t they all?

I’m sticking to my guns. This spring is more than revel-worthy, and revel I shall.

So, will you join me in a little musical celebration?

Now is the month of maying,
When merry lads are playing, fa la,
Each with his bonny lass
Upon the greeny grass. Fa la.

The Spring, clad all in gladness,
Doth laugh at Winter’s sadness, fa la,
And to the bagpipe’s sound
The nymphs tread out their ground. Fa la.

Fie then! why sit we musing,
Youth’s sweet delight refusing? Fa la.
Say, dainty nymphs, and speak,
Shall we play at barley-break? Fa la

– Thomas Morley

See you this summer!

Anticipation

Somewhere in my body, memory and the future meet. Especially in Spring.

An embryonic elephant’s ear, wizened and bloody green, surfaces from March soil, and I taste June’s rhubarb; smell it baking with cinnamon, nutmeg, and raisins under a dome of pastry.

I’m shoveling composted cow manure to make new veggie beds. It’s just days past the Equinox, and my sixth straight of willful labor. So when the temperature pushes 80 degrees, and I start sweating, my numbed brain worries forward. I stagger through a July heat wave; stumbling for a nap on the sofa, a cold pack over my eyes.

I notice tight fisted buds tipping the branches of Korean Spice Viburnum, and I’m ready to drift to sleep on a warm May evening, perfume ghosting through an open window.

Apricot tree blows kisses down the alley inviting an all-girl chorus to hum through its branches. Since this tree only manages to fruit about one year in seven, it’s no wonder the blossoms open a perennial angst. I feel myself turning up my collar against a driving April sleet.

Instead of our normal wrestling match between winter and summer, we seem to be having a spring. We revel in it, and no one quite trusts it. Most years, the eager question in late March is, “Do you think we’ll have an early Spring?” This year, we’re asking each other, “Do you think it will snow in April?”

It’s anyone’s guess.

What’s to be done?

We observe; look for patterns; apply our wits. We plant Chionodoxa with early Itzim narcissus, and feel delight when they bloom together, disappointment when they don’t.

This odd spring, along with all the borrowed trouble and presaged pleasures, I have a different anticipation. Somewhere in my body, a memory lifts my arms as if there were strings on my elbows. I step into weather, plants, and soil as if joining a dance partner, and allow that partner to lead.