On blooming

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.)

10 thoughts on “On blooming

  1. Ally Bean says:

    Your approach to creating a pleasing garden rings true with me. Our way of landscaping is based on that premise, so naturally I agree with you. If the flowers grow and are colors you like then who needs a formal plan?

    I’m glad you’re discovering the joys of writing again. Finding *lost* ideas and half-finished essays, or blog posts in my case, make me feel productive and inspired. Like I was meant to keep writing about this something now, because doing so before was the wrong time. Trust the process is what I’m trying to say.

    • Rita says:

      I think “trust the process” is great advice for both writing and gardening, especially once one has found a process that works for them. I will admit that I’ve tried formal(ish) garden plans in the past, and they’ve never worked. I do much better with some general principles, and then I go to the nursery and see what they have available. Probably takes longer, but it’s what I can do with my skills and other resources. I suspect we have similar writing processes, too.

  2. Kari says:

    MORE, MORE, MORE. ( in regards to your essay)
    MORE, MORE, MORE ( in regards to Portland and the amazing naked bike ride. That makes me very happy.)

    I’m so glad you’re resting and recovering. Your garden is proof that rest and recovery can lead to growth. We are sold on doing and going and pushing. For all those years, my garden suffered because I was so busy doing ALL OF THE things. And now, it is flourishing just like yours is.

    Sometimes not having a plan IS the plan. 😘

    • Rita says:

      Thank you, Kari. Everyone needs a cheerleader sometimes. 🙂

      I’d never seen naked bike riders before! All I could think was: Man, that looks uncomfortable! But then, I’m not much of one for bike riding with clothes. Because it’s not comfortable.

      You and I have similar ideas about planning! I knew there was a reason I like you. 😉

  3. TD says:

    Hi Rita,

    L & L begins a story. The opening is excellent. I believe the piece is going to parallel your relationship with Cain. Yes I want to follow this story! I see similarities.
    A thought or wonder is perhaps Laura did not want to marry Lawrence because he lived with his mother and Laura did not want to live with his mother, for so many reasons that I relate. It’s possible. I had a belief that if any person I dated lived with their parents or had the parents photo on their nightstand that I should run immediately. And so I did a few times. Silly me!

    Glad that you are feeling rested and well,
    I didn’t know that you divorced twice.

    • Rita says:

      Hi TD,
      Well, you’re certainly on the right track about where the story is going. But it’s probably pretty obvious.

      I’ll never know why L & L didn’t marry until his mother died, but I guess it’s really not my business, anyway, is it? Wish I could, but their story has served me well regardless. I had similar beliefs about people and their relationships with parents, but I have learned that we can’t really know (and, thus, judge) another person’s situation unless we are somehow let into it. And even then, we might not understand.

      Thank you for your good wishes. I hope you are well, too.

      • TD says:

        Yeah we will never know lots of things about other people’s lives whether it’s our business or not.

        As far as that.silly myth that I believed in my past, it doesn’t make sense now. I don’t know that I will marry again, but I hope that I do. If so, it would be a third marriage.

        I look forward to reading what you wish to share about your marriage with Cain. I don’t know if that parallel was obvious as no other commenters mentioned this. You know your story and it’s all yours!

        Lots of changes in my life and another move; this time from tropical to dessert.

        P.S. How do I indicate to get email notification of new posts?

  4. Kate says:

    All I think of when I see naked people on bikes is how many times I’ve fallen off my bike. These people are brave or at least a lot more coordinated than I am!

    I’m loving the intro. In part because I love the idea Laura and Lawrence finally getting to end up together for whatever reasons they waited it out, but also because I remember how it it is to judge when we are young and dumb but think we know everything. I once told someone that I was *going places* and would never end up living in podunk town Wisconsin – and that’s exactly where I’ve spent the last 24 years of my life and will probably stay. The hubris of youth and the wisdom of age are both wonderful and lovely in their own ways!

    I love what you’ve done with your yard over the years. It’s lovely. And I’m jealous of your peony blooms! Mine don’t look to be doing much this year.

    • Rita says:

      Oh, I know (too well) what you mean. I couldn’t wait to get out of the Seattle suburb I grew up in! I didn’t stay there, but I ended up working (and eventually living in) a place that was so much like it. And now I wish I had stayed, to at least have lived in the place where I have history, if the one I ended up in wasn’t going to be any more exciting. 🙂

      I’m sorry about your peonies. I honestly have done NOTHING to deserve mine. They grow, I cut them back when they are done blooming, and then they come back even better the next year. I’ve had my time of being very jealous of your vegetable output. Too bad we don’t live close enough that I could give you some peonies and you could give me some veggies.

      And, yeah: I will never ride a bike naked. I will be just fine with never riding a bike again at all. The people I saw riding sure seemed to be having fun, though!

  5. Marian says:

    “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.”
    —This is really lovely, Rita. May your writing grow and bloom the way your garden is.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.