I am in love with our garden. I am in love with how stuffed full of leaf and bloom and blossom it is. I love its abundance, its variety, its generous beauty. I love the way it is just a little bit out of control.
A few short years ago, it looked like this:
And now, it looks like this:
The second photo was taken in a different month, but you get the gist. Originally, once the brief, glorious weeks of the tulips and willow blossoms passed, there wasn’t much going on here. The bed in these photos was nearly empty. Now, it is so full we can’t really squeeze any more plants into it.
When I retired two years ago, people asked me if I was going to focus on writing, maybe try to publish another book. I wanted to say “yes,” but if my writing were a garden, it was even emptier than the “before” picture of my actual garden above. Ironically, as I (almost) fully retired at the end of last school year, it began to get harder to write even here, where I’d been writing faithfully every week for a good, long stretch. Increasingly, I had nothing I really wanted to say. I wanted to say “yes” to the writing question–hadn’t I dreamed of that for years?–but the kinds of projects and goals I once cared about no longer called to me. Maybe, I thought, it was too late for them.
What I really wanted–and, I now know, needed–was to rest and recover. I needed to tend my literal garden, and my home, too. I needed to tend my body, and my family. I needed to slow down. I needed the constant, low-grade vibration in my head to cease its constant thrumming. Sometimes I miss that; it’s a little weird to have my head be a quieter place. It’s unfamiliar. But living this way is better, and I’m beginning to feel myself turning back to words.
I still don’t have a big project or goal, but in the past few weeks I’ve spent most mornings at our dining table in front of a window that looks out to the garden, writing. And it has felt really, really good.
I didn’t have a grand plan when I began transforming this garden. I didn’t even have a specific goal; I just wanted it to be full. I wanted it to feel abundant. I wanted the garden to become a semi-permeable barrier between us and the world; something with a Secret Garden feel to it, but more open. I wanted a clear sense of our own space, but I also wanted to be able to see and wave to people who walk by. I didn’t really know how to make it into that.
I began throwing things into the ground and hoping they would live. I planted a lot of plants that did not live. I planted plants that lived but did not thrive. I ended up moving those to other places in the yard. I transplanted some things from other places where they hadn’t done well. Some things in here–like the peony pictured above–I did not plant at all. I have no idea how that peony got there, but it has come back every year for the last three, bigger each time, and I love it. I love that I didn’t plant it, but it grew there, anyway. Sometimes our creations are like that, you know? The things we never plan for, the things that fall in our laps, live and thrive, while other things we give our best efforts die.
This past week, in my morning writing, I’ve worked on revising an essay I first began more than three years ago. I wrote a first draft of something else that I didn’t like at all, but it took me back to a draft of something older that I’d never finished before, and this week I finished it. I pulled out some other things I started in recent years that I think I might be able to finish now.
I’m realizing that all these years I thought I wasn’t writing, I was. I have bits of drafts tucked here and there–in blog posts, in messages, in emails, in file folders, on old laptops I don’t use any more. Seeds and starts, all over the place. Maybe whatever I’m going to do with writing is not going to be so different from what I’ve done with the garden.
What is it they say–the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, and the second-best time to plant a tree is now? Something like that.
I don’t have anything finished to share here, but I can offer a snippet. Below is the beginning of the essay I worked on most this week. Maybe someday I’ll get to tell you that it has been accepted somewhere, and I’ll have a link to the whole thing. Or maybe not. Time will tell if this one lives or dies, I guess.
Laura, my great-grandmother’s youngest sister, married her husband, Lawrence, after a decades-long courtship. Lawrence had lived with his mother, and he and Laura did not marry until she died. Growing up, I saw them at weddings and funerals, and they were always warm and friendly. Both descended from Norwegian immigrants, a people I considered–based on the other relatives in that branch of the family tree–to be rather dour and somber, but I never saw such qualities in them. They smiled often, and they always found the decorations beautiful and the cake delicious.
Despite the couple’s sunniness, my cousins and I, steeped in ideas about love and marriage that began with childhood songs about kissing in trees, found them strange and pitiable. “Why couldn’t they stand up to his mother?” we wondered, assuming–well, all kinds of things.
“I’d never put up with that!” my teenage self declared, reading into their compromises (for, surely, their choices constituted compromise) a kind of weakness. I was years away from being a twice-divorced woman in my forties who would move into a fixer-upper with my teenage twins, a new partner, and his young daughter.
Please feel free to let me know how this opening is working. Where do you think the piece is going? Do you want to follow it there? Or, let me know if something in your world is blooming for you. Or if there’s something you long to cultivate. Would love to hear all about it.
(Speaking of blooming, and things coming up that you don’t expect, last night Cane and I were sitting at a sidewalk table, eating dessert, when a rather large group of naked–or nearly naked–bike riders came down the street. The official Portland World Naked Bike Ride isn’t scheduled until August, so I don’t know who this group was or what their ride was about. It was sort of delightful, though, in a Portland white people doing their weird Portland shit kind of way. They seemed to be having a lot of fun, at no one else’s expense, and I’m always going to be a fan of that.)