You Know You’re a Gardener When… (Take Two)

photo by Levi Chavez

photo by Levi Chavez

You know you’re a gardener when the caption to a photo on the AOL news roll says something about a naked woman in the pool, and all you notice are the black plastic pots and hand trowel in the lower left hand corner.

Can you tell a good “you know you’re a gardener” on yourself?

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.