Commitment

Sometimes the gardener is herself the garden.

I’m two-thirds of the way through year 59, and I’ve been decisively editing my attitudes.

Here and there were habitual thoughts that had grown so thick and spread so wide, they were choking out other thoughts, more useful ones, happier ones, even prettier ones.

I’ve tried tackling these habits in the traditional way, by getting to the root of them. I mean, don’t we think that if we get to the bottom of some issue, understand how it became an issue in the first place, we can correct it?

What works with dandelions or rampant campanula doesn’t always work with the psyche.

So, with some forthright guidance from my long-time nutrition counselor, Marsha, I changed tactics. I’ve done two things: Deeply accepted the state of my mental weed patches, and loved myself anyway. I stopped denying that I was terrified about my future and gave thanks for my present. I said out loud that I was tired of being fat and gave thanks for my strength and flexibility.

Next thing I knew, I was getting an inkling of what might bring me joy. I accepted being anxious about not knowing how to get from here to there, and let myself imagine all the joy anyway.

One morning, I looked in the mirror and saw a dear and remarkable friend. I said to her, “I weigh 147 pounds.” And we giggled at each other. I actually weighed considerably more than that, even though I’d reached my “summer low”. It was the same summer low I’d reached over the last several years, the low that let’s me zip the skinny jeans, and still the low I was never able to crack.

It felt so good to say I weigh 147, that I kept right on saying it. I’d say it as I got in the car, and my posture changed. I’d say it walking down the street, and my step lightened. I’d say it standing in front of my open closet and choose different clothes.

A few weeks ago, I stepped on the scale. It must have been wrong. I stepped off and stepped on again. Four times. It read 5 pounds below the summer low. A week later, 7 pounds below. The skinny jeans not only zip, the muffin top is gone.

Today, I took all my winter and early spring jeans, capris, and skirts to Goodwill.

As to the joyful future I’ve let myself imagine: To be continued…

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End of Summer

The scent of dryer sheets sneaks into the back yard. It’s how one recognizes a Sunday evening here on the flat corner lot, a stone’s throw from the landmark yellow apartments. I heave the electric mower across long grass, remembering pastures on Swiss slopes, complexly herbaceous. Remembering, too, the mixture of disappointment and amazement as I witnessed their scything, the flowers toppled, the perfumed barns, the milk in my coffee, faintly yellow, easily frothing, signaling my thighs to hike inclines. A fondness for Swiss pastures and the family of friends who wander them, sometimes with me puffing along, fosters a tolerance, even an affection, for overlong turf, dandelions, and the mix of broadleaf hooligans that comprise my lawn.

Only a month ago, lindens confounded mowing evening. It was Sunday, and yet, the heavy, sweet scent pressed no chemical burn up my snout. Then, there we were: stopping our bicycles under a towering, nearly conical tree. Leaves, heart-shaped and delicately fringed, open palms sheltering pale and drooping flowers. My henna-maned companion, Mucca, reaching her small, quick hand, plucking blossoms for tea. We were so young and on our way to swim in the Zurichsee.

No wonder I chose a neighborhood resplendent with mature European lindens. For ten days or so, during the heat-strain and non-stop work of July, I am 34 and on vacation, about to dive into the soul-cleansing mystery of cold, deep water. Uncomprehending the voices around me on the grassy bank, they are a cocoon of music. Surely, I will emerge transformed.

This evening, well past the midpoint of August, dryer sheets and freshly mowed lawn weave into the close up songs of crickets and the farther off drone of traffic. Threaded into this generous tapestry, the echo of voices. She was here. My henna-maned companion and her dearest friend, Maria, together on the mixed herbaceous lawn, swathing me in the music of their nearly incomprehensible dialect.

We took our meals together round the table under the crab out back. Friends came to share in the joy. Mucca’s quick hands were completely at home in my kitchen. Daily, Maria’s surgical precision, chopped chives from the garden. The chives from Deb, now long gone to New Zealand, were planted with the hope of being prepared for such a visit from so far away.

One might imagine that this small house would feel crowded with two more people, exotic and dynamic, filling the spaces, using the bathroom, overtaking the kitchen. But the house got bigger. Such, I suppose, is the expansive nature union.

Ambassadors of a parallel life, they carried a shuttle that wove together a hole in my being, something I hadn’t dreamed could happen. You see, I, too, have occupied their house. I know every window’s view, the song of each hinge, the tumble of the lock. The stairs can’t be ascended in secret. The bread keeps in a muslin cloche on a circular shelf in the corner cupboard. Before their visit, I wrote to Deb that I knew their house better than my own. The truth of this surprised me. And the result of their visit surprises me even more: I am deeply, happily, mysteriously at home.

These are women who know me from another world and time, when I sang and lived out loud. They still ask for sung blessings over food and lullabies. Mucca still listens with tears on her lined, tan cheeks.

Leaning on the doorjamb to the kitchen, I watched them prepare a dinner of salad and potatoes with quark. A favorite meal of Mucca’s because it’s simple, grounding, and homely, it’s one we’ve had so often in their house. How could I have known to ask them, “Cook for me like you do at home.” Should they ever come again, I will.

The chives, translated from Swiss German as “cutting leeks”, have completely regrown. Days are still hot, though the light has become more callow. The sky, a robust blue, fills frequently with towering clouds, and sometimes blesses us with rain. One night, during their visit, Mucca, Maria, and I sat on the front porch in the bent bamboo sofa with its aqua vinyl cushions and let ourselves be cooled and thrilled by a profound storm. When it passed, the crickets took up their chorus, and we were happy together, old comfortable friends, at peace.

Though the flowers I bought for their pleasure have gone to the compost heap, the house, my home, remains spacious, as though emerged, unfurled and dried in the sun.

Departure

At the farthest end of the parking median, cold rain gently drives High Plains flower seeds into welcoming soil.

Neighborhood beaks make serious dips into the feeders, pecks at the suet, and territorial chirps from dripping branches. The predicted low will flirt with freezing, and as a precaution, both shed and livingroom are stuffed with annuals, most of which arrived Friday on a semi from Denver.

Delivery day was nothing short of manic. While sun spangled this flat corner lot, a collective of gardeners thrilled at the beauty of vibrant plants and blossoms, freshly liberated from growing houses. We counted flats, shuffled them into a mosaic of who ordered what, toted them off to further destinations, and chatted over chilling coffee on the front porch.

Between arrivals and departures, I got laundry out on the lines, ran the mower, sorted my own stash, and tackled some serious tidying out in the utility area behind the cedar fence. It seemed like I was totally engaged. In all honesty, I was barely there and had to remember to breathe.

The chain link gate between car port and back yard stood horribly open, accommodating garden cart traffic, yes, and signifying a keen absence. No Willie to watch for escape.

Two weeks ago, May Day, and while the neighbors gathered friends to dance ribbons around a tall pole, snow fell. The temperature followed. A low of 25 Fahrenheit, with crab apples, cherries, and plums in full bloom. Fragrant spires of lilacs towered along the alley. Thinking a hard freeze might take them, I took the kitchen shears and cut a bouquet. It perfumed the livingroom where I shut all the window shades and let the thermostat kick on the furnace.

I told myself I’m more prepared for this in the fall. Waning daylight and cooling air ready my expectations. I take in the geraniums, say goodbye to the tomatoes. A rightful sense of melancholy adds a note of poignance to my thoughts, appropriate, in season. A spring freeze, by contrast, is counterintuitive, contraindicated, and surfeits doom.

I did my best to shut out that blasted night.

Then, standing still, deciding whether to go outside or look for a bed to nap on, Willie’s legs slipped out from under him. He was an old dog. Systems fail. He’d been slowly, increasingly wobbly. These things happen, only, damn, not in Spring. Spring is for friskiness. We let go of pounds, inhibitions, useless clothing, not old friends.

I shivered through the next day, even though we stayed home from the Monday garden and kept quiet together in the office. We visited the vet and came home with pain medication and hope. After 48 hours, there was only further decline. Two more office visits and two more medications and still worse.

Each stage of departure became the new norm. I adjusted. I knew. I accepted. I resisted. I consulted. I waited. I witnessed. I hesitated. I wanted. I decided.

Very late, at the tipping point of Mother’s Day, asleep in my arms, his heart stopped.

My body remembered how to wail, a deep and awful surprise.

Mother’s Day, what could I do? The brave old soul was gone. My companion’s deep brown eyes, nowhere to be seen, nowhere seeing me. I gardened. I dragged hoses, ran the mower over cowlicks of grasses, planted penstemons in the rock garden, apologized to weeds before blading them out of the earth. And, as I plodded in and out of the back yard, I always shut the gate.

Willie never cared for the days I darted all over the place, front to back, side to side, going nowhere interesting while giving the appearance that I was about to depart. When I settled back inside, he’d step on the nearest bed and pin me with a look, “Alright, will you stay put?”

But none of us do, nor can we, stay put.

There’s a mammoth river in the center of this continent. I grew up 85 miles from it’s dark water. As children, we tried to hold our breath over the bridge to the old home grounds where kin abided. We held our breath so that our souls might not fall in among the catfish and fertile silt. Every creek and river whose name I knew ended there, no matter where it began, or how it sang, or whose forest or field it slid inexorably through.

Today, an unholiday Sunday, that river is swollen almost beyond memory. And though I walk and breathe, converse and garden, even laugh a thousand miles away, it’s that river I feel.

Thank goodness it will crest and recede.

Thanks to every friend who understands when I carry the little ash-filled box from room to room.

And thank you, Willie.