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.

IMG_4403

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.

IMG_5116

IMG_5118

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

IMG_5138

What a blessing.

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).

Falling Away

Small, golden leaves drift and spiral into the front garden from the honey locust trees, sentries in the median round the flat corner lot. Wearing long pants and short sleeves, I brunch on the aqua vinyl cushions, seduced and recalling snow. It is well into the seventies, and most of the neighborhood’s canopy is only hinting at their coming display. By the grace of some long-ago planter and the last-come, first-go nature of locusts, I have a private autumn.

A stab of trepidation surprises me as I discover the look of contorted, soot-black branches against the moody sky. Is this how a prophet feels when a vision of the yet unknown asserts itself? I could post a warning on the fence: Look up! Emptiness is coming! Practice letting go before it’s too late!

Round back, the largest Siberian elm has lost a limb. A turbulence of cloven hooves and leather wings leaped and swooped through the neighborhood at pre-dawn last Thursday, and carelessly tumbled it. The descent must have included an acrobatic bounce, because it landed across the fence even though it once extended across the sidewalk in the opposite direction.

The limb was one of three which formed its broad crown, rolling shade across the back yard in perfect counterpoint to the sun’s arced passage. I always knew the tree would have to come down some day. It’s warily branched and weak from disease. Now, missing the streetside limb, it seems to list toward the power line to the house. I will have to consult someone. I love the tree too much to make the decision too hastily and on my own.

I couldn’t deal with the limb the day it came down, nor the next day for that matter. I had too much scheduled, some things I couldn’t change. Work. Appointments. Taking my dad to see a behavioral therapist and his doctor. A much anticipated evening of laughter with friends.

When I got home the second evening, the sidewalk was passable, and there was a note on the front porch: “I will be over in the morning to help finish cleaning up. Jim”. I darn near wept. And sure enough at 8:20 AM, I grabbed loppers and gloves, drove the pick-up round to the mess, and he was already whittling things down to size. In a couple of minutes, Jim’s wife, Jo, joined us, and we had the limb stripped, bucked, and stuffed in the pick up in just an hour.

“How’s your dad?” They wanted to know.

“Not so great.” The honest answer.

All the report said was “significant cognitive impairment”. A full neuropsychological evaluation was recommended. For an 87-year-old guy, he’s quite physically well. His spirit still sparks, too. But his mind is falling away.

Today, though we drove just blocks from the gardenhood, to another appointment, I avoided the temptation to detour and show him the place. The drive had been confusing enough, and a diversion might have stressed him to the point of losing the clarity we’d been granted to share. As we got nearer his place, descending a hill, Dad sang. “Down in the valley, the valley so low.” I joined him. “Hang your head over, hear the wind blow.” We sang two verses, and those blue eyes, now the color of autumn sky where it pales to meet the horizon, caught mine in recognition. We still have time to practice.

We might try this old hymn:

For the beauty of the earth, for the beauty of the skies, for the love which from our birth, over and around us lies…

For the beauty of each hour of the day and of the night, hill and vale, and tree and flower, sun and moon, and stars of light…

For the joy of ear and eye, for the heart and mind’s delight, for the mystic harmony linking sense to sound and sight…

For the joy of human love, brother, sister, parent, child, friends on earth, and friends above, open hearts both sweet and wild…

Holy All That Is we raise this our song of grateful praise.