The First Question

South wing of the atomic-rancher.

South wing of the atomic-rancher.

Winter remains.

We’ve had snow, which suits me. The flat corner lot gets real, from-the-sky-gods moisture. And I get to rest.

Rest in this case means: do something other than dig, pull, deadhead, tidy, prune, mow, irrigate. I don’t look at catalogues. I don’t seem to need a fix.

Although I can guess the neighbors wouldn’t mind if I got around to it earlier, I figure March is soon enough to spruce up winter-worn debris. In another month, I’ll attend a day-long presentation about going native in the urban landscape. I’m pretty sure I’ll be ready by then.

I do wander about. When an early January thaw took the snow down, I couldn’t help but look for crocus. That got me chuckling, and seemed evidence enough I’m still and will likely always be a gardener. Primroses planted last fall have pushed up new life. Heuchera peeking through an avalanche of crabapple leaves remain as lively as they were in October. I look for the hardy cyclamen planted some years back and hope they were only waiting for a moist year to reappear. So, you see, I’m not indifferent. I notice. I delight. I simply don’t feel compelled.

I have to say, it’s a relief to embrace this about myself. I once thought I’d become less of a gardener, losing all ambition in the winter, allowing my attention and energy to wander elsewhere. Such a loss and change of focus caused an identity crisis. Glad I’m over that.

So, what am I doing instead?

I’m reading (Terry Tempest Williams, David Whyte, Lester Brown, Kristin Linklater). I’m writing (just finished a chapter to submit to a book project on connecting with nature). I’m going to the movies and watching Downton Abbey. I’m journaling as an exercise in reinventing myself, envisioning the future when I fully take up my original calling: empowering others to live true to themselves in communion and community. I’m dusting off my knowledge and passion for voice work and teaching workshops with my friend, Elena. And I’m gazing through the windows at the quiet flat corner lot, walking her paths and sidewalks, and wondering just when it occurred to me that she had gained the status of gardenhood and why.

When I started this blog three years ago, I had to first get clear what it was and wasn’t about. The first question I asked: When does a patch of ground become a garden?

I haven’t come close to accomplishing what I wanted to on the flat corner lot. She’s still pretty humble. The soil has barely nudged. The list of pruning and arborist work is overwhelming. The heat, fires, drought, hail, and late freezes of 2012 and 2013 nearly took the gardening life right out of me. And yet…

There is a sense of welcome here.

There is a sense that we’ve come to know and accept each other, this patch of ground and me. I tolerate her tendency to invite weeds. She tolerates my distractions. I celebrate her abundance of dandelions. She celebrates my infrequent mowing. I adore her effortless tenacity. She adores my hanging out the laundry. We admire each other. We protect each other.

Elsewhere, gardens are taken to the height of artistry and craft, and they aren’t more garden than the flat corner lot. I know. I’ve tended some mighty ones, visited others, read about still more.

Here, however, I’m welcomed home.

She celebrates my infrequent mowing.

She celebrates my infrequent mowing.

 

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Recess in the Gardenhood

Wednesday evening this week, Rose and Diane, who work with me in Green Way’s gardens, agreed to let me cook for them.

We needed to talk about the coming season, how drought will effect our work load. Passionate gardeners often find ourselves with many other things in common. Our conversation ranged over several countrysides. And while we laughed, exclaimed, solved the world’s problems, and, yes, ate, it snowed.

It snowed a real snow. Moisture laden. Four inches in the three hours. They left in a quiet sifting of heavy flakes and a celebratory mood.

5inches

The official total out at the airport was 7.3 inches. The patio table on the flat corner lot captured five.

Makoto Moore, meteorologist with the national weather service in Pueblo, CO, says “We’re still knee deep in drought.” But snow on the ground lasting for several days and the clean fragrance of fallen clouds raises spirits and has everyone hoping for more.

Up in the mountains as much as 17.5 inches of powder accumulated. Good news for the river basins.

Did you know that no rivers flow into Colorado? Here, instead, are the headwaters of the Platte, the Arkansas, the Colorado, the Rio Grande, and more.

Snowpack remains at 75% of normal statewide, but with March and April typically the snowiest months, fingers are crossed that February’s treasure will kickstart a productive spring. You can almost hear as folks around the state take turns holding their breath.

Another big storm heads our way tonight. Cell phones have buzzed: blizzard warnings are posted.

Today, however, I declared a recess in the gardenhood. The sun polished the sky into a porcelain blue. Wednesday’s snow shrank and liquified, singing its way down gutters and storm grates. I strolled on down to Shooks Run just to hear the liquid music. Upstream, inside the fence of the municiple golf course, ancient western willow raised their broad and glorious heads, bright February gold twigs against high, icy bands of clouds.

Back in the office, a message from my cousin Ginny alerted me to the March issue of National Geographic. There is an article on fracking in North Dakota. It attempts to give a balanced socio-economic look at the changes fracking is making in the state. The photos by Eugene Richards convey the story beautifully. However, a quick reading yielded no information on troubles ranchers are having with their livestock. There is always more to the story.

Alright, back to recess!

Tracking the gardener.

Tracking the gardener.

Fast Away…

Fast away the old year passes,
Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la!

IMG_4702

We’ve been waiting for this. For snow. For cold. For a productive gray sky and clean north wind. For a sense of something normal, however fleeting.

It’s been somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 and a half months since there was any appreciable moisture from above. October and November netted us a whopping .16″. That’s less than a quarter inch of precipitation in 61 days. Today’s snow might leave behind as much as the last two months’ total, and we’re glad for it.

Long term forecasts show the dry weather continuing. But for one dreamy Sunday, we have a little Winter.

As this old year passes, it’s time to consider what may be passing with it. Drought combined with rising water costs signal the passing of my original vision for the flat corner lot. So, before it has become a fully expressed garden, I will begin taking it in a new direction. With so many questions yet to ask,  Gardenhood goes on.

Hail the new, ye lads and lasses,
Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la!

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.

Comfort and Joy

Snow, at last, illumines the gardenhood. I went out before the sun rose to clear the walks. The sky, a deep Virgin’s blue, was crowned by the waning crescent moon. It was cold enough to give the air weight. Still a northerner at heart, I revel in mornings like this and seem to require one to fully awaken the sense of wonder, gratitude, and awe that dance in the holiday spirit. Carols and lights and the scent of fir trees help, yet there’s nothing like snow.

Jacket over hoody, thick wool socks and mittens, my heaviest jeans. By the time the mountain and spired conifers were gilded, work had warmed me through. Scrape, toss, scrape, toss – there is a lot of sidewalk around this flat corner lot. I stilled my shoveling often, changing postures, admiring the light and the sugar-fine comforter settled over everything.

How is it that crystalized air, frigid white powder from deep space, and back-aching labor give rise to a sense of well-being and delight?

“Oh, tidings of comfort and joy.”

Indoors, Ed the arctic white cat, remains. He’s having nothing of this wintry weather and its shiny deposit. We slept like stones, me under and he atop three inches of down rolled out for the occasion. Instead of prowling the fence-line for thrills, he’s attacking the stuffed mouse, tossing, batting, pouncing, biting, rolling on his back and scratching it with all four paws. I admire his adaptability. He prefers expeditions beyond the backdoor. He also prefers certain temperatures and dry toes. He makes his own fun, finds the windows, kneads my lap. All, it seems, on his own terms.

Another lifetime ago, suffering from extreme seasonal affective disorder, the approach of Christmas sent me spiraling, and not upward. The pressures to be cheerful, to make gifts, to out-bake my mother-in-law all rode me hard. What I craved was quiet, intimacy, reflection, and beauty. What I engaged in was manic activity and too many well-fed conversations in overheated, brightly lit rooms.

In the year following my deepest depression, with all my body chemistry telling me to hunker down and my psyche wanting a cure, I chucked the baking and the gifts. Imagine the strangeness of such an abdication in a Christmas-crazed society. Well, desperate times call for something untried.

My hands empty and calendar clear, my bloodstream untroubled by sugar, I listened. The eternal theme of the season kept calling to me: the coming of light to a darkened world, hope to the darkened soul. I put on my snowshoes, and took myself into the mystery, the slumbering woods, the quiet. I trekked out of the comfort zone of making traditional merry and into the comfort that evidenced eternity, that yielded joy. My entire relationship to Winter and to its timeless holidays was transformed. I grew to love Winter and take comfort in the rest it afforded.

Now that I live in an urban forest, is it any wonder that I revel in a dark, snowy morning?

I confess, I still pressure myself to have a merry Christmas and contribute to the merriness of friends and family. I worry that I’ll spend the day alone, won’t get asked to parties and concerts, will spend too much money, forget or disappoint someone. Crazy, I know. Even worthless old habits die hard.

At least now I can do more than fret and compete in the “merry-thon”. I can wake up in the thinning darkness and, with a quiet playfulness, answer an invitation made by fresh snow out into the bleak midwinter garden to find shimmers of glory and glimmers of peace.

Merry Christmas, everyone. Blessed Solstice. Happy Hanukkah.

May you find comfort and joy.

Neighbor Snowblows Me Away

My favorite bulky sweater wafts small engine exhaust fumes, and I’m delighted.

I’ve just had one of my “this is the neighborhood I live in” experiences.

I heard a snow blower up the street signaling what I’d already suspected: We’re not getting any more snow today. It’s too cold. Leaving my hair in its unsightly tie-back position (totally exposing my ears) and grabbing my double-walled mittens, I headed out. The front porch and walk I cleared with the broom. Last night’s snow looked and felt like super fine cake flour. When I turned the corner to the long south side, I discovered where all the snow from the front yard had gone.

Back up the walk to fetch my shovel. Working from east to west, the little drifts yielded easily. I tossed them on the median where they might do some good. Behind me the blower noise grew louder. I glanced over my shoulder and spotted a well-bundled neighbor working the corner across the street. I decided to race him, woman against machine, to see who’d finish their corner first.

Then, the sound of the blower grew louder. Looked up, and sure enough, comes the neighbor up behind me. He cranked the spout to spray the snow on the median, and off he set. I watched his first pass, then decided it was too cold to lean on a shovel handle grinning, so tidied up the front walk. By the time I was done, he was walking the blower back to his corner. Smiling from frozen ear to frozen ear, I waved and shouted “Thank you!” He looked mighty pleased.

I’ve not met this fellow before, but the experience is becoming familiar.

The times that neighbors have stepped out of their routines to introduce themselves or stopped to see how things were going when I’m out working in the yard are now too numerous to recall. Perhaps the sweetest, however, was Palm Sunday last year. I was smothering the front lawn under newspaper and dark humus, not an activity I thought would gain universal approval. Several folks did stop to ask what I was doing, even asking if I’d replant the sod. Few commented on my plans for a garden. In early afternoon, Bea appeared on the other side of the chain link. Ninety years old and the slight size of a school girl, she held out a blue-wrapped lollipop. “You’re working so hard,” she said. “I thought you might like one of these.”

I’ve done nothing to earn these kindnesses. I just moved in and started gardening. From the first handshake, however, I felt my heart opening like a seed. We’re a mixed up bunch: Giggling girls, skateboarding youth, strolling elders, and sign posting Republicans and Democrats. We’re threaded together by these sidewalks and touched by the weather above them. I am so touched by a sense of belonging here, that over time, I realize I’ve made a list of resolutions I hope will honor and benefit the neighbors of this garden.

1) First and foremost, there will be no privacy fence. It would neither fit nor serve.

2) To practice non-attachment, flowers in the median are there for the picking.

3) I can always stop for a chat, and will say “thanks” for every visit.

4) I will buy Girl Scout cookies.

5) The light will always be on and the bowl full for Halloween.

The lull of late morning has settled down around this intersection of residential streets. Quiet enough to hear bird chatter out back, a reminder that it’s time to fill the feeders. I look up to notice a fine sift of snow slanting from the north. Guess I was wrong, two degrees is not too cold for it after all. If enough of it falls, who knows what will happen next. With a nod to Mr. Frost: Good flurries do good neighbors make.