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.

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Lingering

The warmth and colors of summer linger.

Summer's professional wardrobe.

Summer’s professional wardrobe. Fresh from the line. The clothes line, that is.

Kale salad. Inspired by Nancy W, who was inspired by Martha (THE Martha).

Kale salad with caramelized grapes and onions, walnuts, yams, and feta. Inspired by Nancy W, who was inspired by Martha (THE Martha).

The first tomato.

The first tomato. Indian Stripe. Perfection.

The last daylily.

The last daylily.

Labor Day weekend balloon festival.

Labor Day weekend balloon festival. Right over the gardenhood.

A mandala. Drawn by Nancy H. (One can never have too many Nancies in her life).

A mandala. Drawn by Nancy H. (One can never have too many Nancies in her life).

This drawing represents my spirit’s calling into a whole new realm of gardening. Assisting in the creation of sacred space. In lives. In landscapes. For Earth’s sake.

The lingering warmth and colors of summer calling me all the way home.

Reigning Scents

In the evening, neighbors with strollers and pups on leashes come round the flat corner lot drenched in perfume.

The honey locusts are blooming. Tiny, round, olive green flowers high in their lofty crowns so sweetly scented, I could swoon.

Closer to earth, the rugged iris have cheered onlookers for a couple of weeks. When I was a kid, one of my guilty pleasures was sticking a wet finger into Kool-Aid mixed with sugar and popping said finger back into my mouth. It’s a memory evoked by the scent of iris.

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Inside the chainlink fence, three varieties of tall, bearded iris share the throne: Iris varieagta with her golden swords and grapey perfume; “Pagan Goddess” peachy, prolific, and subtly scented; and an unnamed variety from Deb’s garden, streaked with rootbeer and smelling of vanilla.

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Even closer to the earth, a bouquet of cloven pinks flirts with the golden leaves of Cotinus. Sassy devils.

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While perched on the corner of the rock garden, the bluest penstemon reigns with a stately aura, wafting a soft tanginess somewhere between fresh mown hay and sorel. Hers I would wear dabbed behind ears and in the hollow of my elbows as I drift off to dreamland.

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There to dream of meeting someone as primitive, as sophisticated, and  as cleanly scented as a tree peony, but much less ephemeral.

What a Ride

Tuesday’s stom was so fierce, even the dandelions, snug to the ground, were blackened.

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Roaring winds. Single digit lows. A mere spattering of snow. Tulipa kaufmanniana ‘The First’, filled with bees on Monday, could not bow down far enough.

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Tight-fisted buds on the Carol Mackie daphne, crisped. Hyacinths blasted.

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The front door tulips? Not likely this year.

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Then, yesterday, new signs. Rhubarb keeps on trying.

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Narcissus ‘Itzim’ and chionodoxia bloom together.

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And this morning, before sunrise, rain. Enough to leave puddles.

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Enough to leave a sip in the birdbath.

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I couldn’t wait to go out and smell the air. I threw on a hoodie over my pj’s and dug into the earth with bare fingers just to make sure it was real. Even in the driest part of the parking median, the earth was perfectly moist.

Birds are rioting.

The mourning doves have returned.

The front door tulips have been kissed. All is forgiven.

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What She’s Been Up To

I can only tell you what I’ve watched her do around here. That is, when she’s here, which is less and less, these days.

She makes me dizzy.

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She pulls the head of a very long snake, runs back to the house, turns a knob, and makes it rain at the head of the snake. Then, she runs back through the house (tracking in lots of stuff, let me tell you), drags another huge snake, turns another knob, and makes it rain there. This goes on and on. I have a very hard time keeping track of her.

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When she does sit down, it’s for a very short time. This morning she came out on the porch, turns to me, and says, “Well, Mr. Cat, we have purrzactly 10 minutes to drink this cup of coffee. So, if you want some lap time, you better come on up.” I thought about it for a while, thinking maybe she was kidding, maybe she’d settle in, and I could knead her thigh.

No such luck.

A buzzery bell went off, and so did she.

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Yesterday, she walked all over the place with a big, broom-looking thing, sweeping the grass. The floor in the house is dirty, and she sweeps the grass. Then she’d pick up the piles she made (before I even got a chance to check them out), and tossed them in the back of her truck. I followed her out there, too, but she always tells me to stay away from trucks and cars and the street.

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Then she took a little broom and did the same thing to the place where all the prickery things grow. One of the prickery things bit her. She said the plant was an agave, and it was just protecting her pups.

whisking the rock garden

agave bite

What? That’s the craziest thing I’ve heard since the time she said tulips come from turkeys. Really?

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Where she goes the rest of the time, I don’t know. By the smells on her knees and shoes, though, I’d say she’s up to more of the same, where ever she is.

One day, when it was kind of cold outside, she stayed inside and worked here, where I’m sending you this message. I’d sit and stare at her to get her to feed me or let me outside. “What is it, Ed?” she’d say. “Can’t you see I’m bizzy? I have to get this done for a talk I’m giving next Wednesday.”

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Whatever.

I tried stting in her lap when she’s like this, but something just doesn’t feel right.

I’ve heard you gardener types just can’t wait for spring. Must be true. There’s sure no waiting going on around here.

Can anyone out there tell me what she’s really been up to?

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.