Who?

autumn joy

Herbstfreud. Sedum “Autumn Joy”

Cloudy equals cool, and I had energy.

Out I went. Took up the hose and showered the containers and drier spots on the flat corner lot. While I drenched the grapevine, a woman with shoulder-length grey hair strolled by. She stopped and chatted over the chain-link fence about the weather. How strangely cool it is, how quickly it can change in Colorado. Although, in her tidy black pants and pastel striped shirt, she wasn’t exactly familiar, it’s the sort of exchange I’m used to in a neighborhood of wide sidewalks and pedestrians. With a look of purpose and a contented smile, she strolled on.

By the time I made it down to the Sambucus, she was striding up the other side of the street. “Must be visiting one of the neighbors,” I thought as she stopped some 15 feet before the intersection and crossed toward me, again. She stepped up the curb with a little difficulty and seemed to get tangled as she walked through the tansy, coneflowers, and asters. Fearing she might stumble, I asked her if she needed a hand. “No,” she said, “if I can just make it through these weeds.”

Again, not so unusual. Natural equates wild equates weeds for lots of folks. Trying to sound firm and gentle, I said, “Those aren’t weeds. I actually work pretty hard to take care of that garden.” She stepped out onto the safety of the sidewalk. “Oh,” she said looking a little guilty. She regained her stride in her original direction.

As I finished up, she walked up the other side of the street, this time crossing the intersection. I thought, “Good for her, getting in such a nice walk.”

In I went, poked down something from the fridge for supper, and turned on the computer. Just as I opened an email, there was a knock at the door.

There she stood. Lost. Really lost.

“I was on my way home from work,” she said, “and my car stopped working. Then, I think it was my nephew who came and got it. Now, I don’t know where my car is.”

“Oh!” I said. “Would you like to come in?”

“I don’t want to bother you,” she said.

“Not at all,” I said. “Please, come in.”

“Thank you!”

“Here, sit wherever you’d like.” She perched on the love seat, her feet in tiny white walking shoes, snuggled next to each other. “Are you thirsty? May I get you a glass of water?”

She insisted she was fine.

I recapped her dilemma. “So, your car stopped working on your way home from work and your nephew came for it…”

“Or maybe it was my Dad…”

I notice she is empty-handed. “Someone you knew took your car with your purse and keys, and now you don’t know where it is.”

Though she looks not a day younger than 65, she nods like a school girl.

“Do you know where you are?”

“I think I’m somewhere between work and home.”

“Oh! Where do you live?”

She lights up. “Somewhere near downtown.”

“Do you know your address?”

“I think it’s 515.” Her air is at once satisfied and evasive. Five years ago, I had conversations like this with my dad. His dodging and deceits infuriated and frightened me. Suddenly, in the middle of my gut, I understood them more generously.

“Oh! Nice! Your house number is 515. And what street do you live on?”

“I. I don’t know.”

“Oh, I see!” I’m feeling tender and charmed. “Is there someone who might know where you live?”

She said her sister would know. But, if we called her, it would take a long time for her sister to get here. She tells me the name of the town where her sister lives. Had I heard of it? No, but if you tell me your sister’s name, maybe we can find her.

Over the next little while, I learn her name, her sister’s and brother-in-law’s names, her dad’s name. I try to locate them all via the internet on my phone. I find a number for her sister. It rings and rings. Every other line of inquiry leads us in circles. Her dad should be home from work by now, she’s certain. He always comes and gets her. He works at the hardware store. Did I know which one?

She worries, over and over, that she’s interrupting my supper. Are you hungry, I ask? Oh, no. My mom always has bowls of snacks set out for us when I get home from school.

I try her sister’s number again.

“What do we do now?” she asks.

“I know. How about if I call the police and see if anyone is looking for you?”

“OK! Maybe they’ll know where my dad is.”

“Or your car!”

“Right!”

So, I dial 911. All the while I describe her to the operator, she looks at those tiny white shoes, her hands folded in her lap. “Is she cooperative?” they ask. “Call, again, immediately, if she leaves.”

My new friend is going nowhere, if I have anything to say about it.

“What do we do now?” she asks.

“We’re going to wait for someone to come and take you home.”

“I don’t want to interrupt your supper.”

“Oh!” I laugh. “I’ve already eaten. Are you sure you’re not hungry?”

“No, no. I’m fine. My mom always has bowls of things out for me when I get home from school. I like your house. This is a nice house.”

“Thank you! How do you feel?”

“Oh, you know, it’s a little hard when you can’t remember things.”

“Ah. You’re a little anxious?”

“No, no, no. I’m comfortable here. This is a nice house.”

“I’m so glad.”

“But I’m taking up all your time. I should go.”

“Not at all! I’m enjoying your company.”

We talk in loops and tendrils until a young officer comes to the door. “And your name is?”

“Chris.”

“Chris, this is my friend, Karen. Karen, this is Chris. He’s come to give you a ride home.”

“Do you know where I live?” Her soft voice is full of wonder and relief. She stands as he tells her the address.

The evening is just fading as they walk out the gate.

“Thank you for coming!”

Absorbed in her conversation with Chris, she doesn’t turn.

I wave, anyway.

No High Ground

There is no high ground on the flat corner lot.

That is, unless you count the moral high ground to which I sometimes flee.

For a long while, now, there have been all kinds of people, all along the political spectrum and in every walk of life, feeling threatened, dismissed, put-out. Me included. It’s easy to tell: our fear turns to outrage, and our outrage into  epithets and diatribes.

This election cycle, as the rants  reach a fevered pitch, I’m so tempted to sharpen my tongue. Oh, to cleverly spout off and take refuge in my superior outrage! Ah-ha! To brandish my rapier wit and slash the buttons off some neatly jacketed stupidity. The problem is, it’s rarely as satisfying as I think it will be. After silently composing my repartee, I’m wound up and exhausted. Ultimately, I only prove to myself, that I’m a wanna-be intellectual bully. Yuck.

I needed to calm my nerves. So, for a week, I took a retreat of a different nature. I stayed away from news feeds.

As the mental replays of all the arguments, opinions, and speculations quieted, I gained a tiny bit of perspective.

When the presidential election is finally behind us, guess what? The vast majority of us will still need to live together, do business, share the highways, walk the grocery aisles, go to school, worship.

We live in a democratic republic. We are not governed from on high. We govern ourselves. After we’ve cast our ballots, after we’ve sent people off to legislate and administrate, how will we govern ourselves?

We all have to decide how to behave. Since I want to live peacefully and be treated with civility, I came up with a list of tenets by which I hope to go forward.

  • Whatever has my attention gets bigger. So, I’ll focus my thoughts and actions in ways that lift my spirits and give me a positive direction.
  • There’s a huge difference between staying informed and feeding an addiction to fury. Staying informed is a satiable appetite. Consume enough and digest.
  • Reason will not budge hysteria. Don’t try.
  • Violence in thought, word, or deed only begets more violence. If I’m feeling angry, that’s a signal I need to take care of myself.
  • A case of differing opinions, does not require me to win. Let go of having the last word.
  • Closely related: A well turned, emotionally and intellectually engaging argument may make me feel great, but it doesn’t make me right. There are plenty of other ways to exercise my wit.
  • When we hear each other, we can have a conversation. When we have a conversation, we can grow, plan, heal. I’ll put the tongue sharpener away, and listen.

Well, alright, then. Maybe there’s no high ground on the flat corner lot, but there are a few raised beds. They’re far more productive.

My Daily Hero

His helmet bears a row of short spikes menacing from front to back, right down the middle.

Released from his domicile every evening after supper, he rides. Always on the sidewalk. Someone must tell him to stay there, place parameters of safety on his pedal-pushed freedom. Nevertheless, eyes straight ahead, he goes.

I wonder where he imagines himself. Off into the Jurassic jungle. Rushing to a clash of Vikings. Destined to an encounter with Dragons. Is he always flying solo? Or does his wheeled escape speed him into the company of other valiant protectors of decency?

I hope he has no idea that this old woman, nor any other, watches. Known gazes tether, pull such a child off course into response. I want for him to answer only to himself, to make impeccable use of the discharge granted him each evening after supper on his brisk steed, in his clean clothes, his ferocious helmet.

The Phoenix Turns Two

On June 26, 2012, a firestorm roared down the foothills into the Mountain Shadows neighborhood of Colorado Springs. 346 homes, two human lives, pets, treasures, thousands and thousands of trees, and who knows how many wild ones, gone.  Images of that day still fill my heart with sorrow, helplessness, and dread.

On July 6, 2012, I stepped into an odyssey of healing.

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

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Eventually, all the heat-scorched pine needles would fall.

As I drove week after week through the devastated area to this garden: I felt happy. It was the sight of plant life. First a chartreuse shrub shining way up on the hillside. Then, the scrub oak shrugging up dark green mats. And it was the anticipation of beauty, reckless and daring to re-inhabit the garden.

returning to life

Honoring the lives of all the plants — from towering ponderosa to tiny mounds of pinks — the homeowners waited nearly a full year to give them a chance to come back. I love these folks dearly for this. They could have, you know, sawed and yanked, thrown in new. But they didn’t. They gazed with tenderness. They cheered every new whorl of needles. They praised each opening bud. They gave thanks for the steadfastness of old friends. They said, out loud, of the white firs that had gone up like torches: “They sacrificed themselves to save our house.”

So passed the remainder of the summer of 2012.

Spring of 2013: Together, we hand-picked the trees who would replace those who had perished. I selected shrubs. All this gorgeous vigor made me giddy.

native cork-bark fir

Cork-bark fir, a Colorado native.

the old putting green

The fire melted the astroturf on a little putting green. And it got converted to a garden. How fun is that?

Then, at summer’s end, another disaster, another miracle. Rain. Too much rain. The burn scar, unable to absorb and buffer streams from big rain events, sent debris-filled flood waters crashing through nearby Manitou Springs. But this garden was spared. And the land around it drank as deeply as it could.

In the spring of 2014 a meadow appeared. And by full summer, it was breathtaking.

meadow following fire

Not all the trees who perished were replaced. One fine old friend became a different work of art.

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flames above trout

bear face

mountain lion

Short weeks after the fire.

water feature after fire

Summer’s height, 2014.

patio bed to water feature

water feature after recovery

Following the fire, garden-related businesses donated pots of annuals to bring cheer to the neighborhood. This generosity is honored by refilling the pots.

germs

Of course, we do a few elsewhere in the garden, too.

two tunias and a germ

Most of all,  however, it is the miracle of this garden rising with the phoenix of the wider landscape, both new and enduring.

sit here for hours

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What a blessing.

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.

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.

Hail

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Wave after wave of hail, ranging in size from peas to skull-busters, pummeled the neighborhood. Driven by stout upslope wind, sometimes the view to the back shed was obscured. The roar was deafening.

Couldn’t bring myself to assess the damage to the garden just yet. Thank goodness the summer is yet young.

Two and a half inches of rain on the city in just under two hours. Just southwest of the gardenhood, hail — some the size of baseballs — fell in such tremendous amounts, it had to be scooped from the road with front-end loaders. Wow.