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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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?

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.

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.