It seems there is no end to the ugliness in the news this summer. Police brutalizing and killing black people, crazies murdering police, young men full of hate committing murder with guns on a massive scale, a political season that leaves me wondering how we got to this ugly place, and how we can possibly find our way to a more hopeful, more just country.
I escape the radio and newspapers in the garden. There is plenty of death, destruction, violence, and uncouth behavior in the garden, but at least we humans aren't to blame for it.
One warm-ish day in February I decided that what we really needed was a gravel path between the driveway and the front path. The grass was trampled and thin from all of us cutting across rather than going around, and I have been eying the area bound by the house, the driveway, the sidewalk, and the front path for years as potential garden bed. But digging out grass and building paths is no easy task, so I procrastinated. Until that warm-ish day in February.
I’ve been looking at houses
online. It feels transgressive, a betrayal of my solid and unexciting little house.
We’ve been together for so many years, you see, and it really was a perfect
match all those years ago, but now I look at other houses and think about what
might have been. Or could be.
There is one house for sale I keep looking
up. The house itself is nothing special, aside from its spectacular 1960’s
ranch house mojo. If we bought it I would spend months ripping out dirty carpet
and pink toilets. But it backs up to the Patuxent river, with a half acre of
land running down into the parkland at the river’s edge. I can imagine a garden
tumbling down that hill, meeting the forest in a shrubby verge, and continuing
along a mysterious path through the woods to the river at the bottom of the
valley. I imagine Noah spending afternoons playing by the creek with his dogs,
rather than playing Minecraft on the iPad.
But I keep circling around the
idea that this little house of ours, with all its flaws, is somehow alive. I feel
tender toward it, sorry for its hurts and insults, and I would grieve to leave
it alone in the neighborhood without us. All of this is ridiculous. And yet I
can’t help but feel that the lives lived in a house are connected to that
house, that severing the link to a place severs the link to those lives. Maybe
I feel this more keenly as someone with a terrible memory. I need the place to
trigger the memory of things that happened there. I don’t want to lose the
wedding rehearsal dinner in the backyard, the Thanksgivings with now-gone family, the
sound of rain on the tree by our bedroom window, the feel of Noah’s skin as I rubbed
his back at bedtime. I want to keep the lives I have lived in this house close
to me, safe from time.
That nothing is safe from time,
especially not a house or a memory, should be clear to me by now. And yet I am
reluctant to willfully leave my past selves alone in a discarded house. I hope
that when the time comes to go, as it inevitably will someday in the next fifty
years, those past selves hold on tight and come along for the ride.
Some things only come with time. A pergola hung with roses in June is one of them. And under this pergola with its softly falling rose petals we will celebrate Mom and Dad's fiftieth wedding anniversary this weekend. For just a few weeks this shabby little house looks like a fairy tale cottage, snug and embowered with blooms. No marriage is a fairy tale, but getting to celebrate fifty years of love and life surely is a story worth telling. Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad.
Maybe the best spot from which to view my garden is the upstairs bathroom window, while sitting on the pot. I don't know if it is the angle and perspective down onto the garden, and the particularly nice view of the corner of the vegetable garden where, outside of the fence, there is a mix of plants that somehow looks just right, or if it is the enforced stillness that makes it the best place to actually see the garden. I don't know that I ever really look at it, except from that window. I sometimes wonder what my neighbor sees and thinks if she looks up at dusk and sees my head, back lit, peeking behind the bathroom curtain and down into the garden.
It has been a cool and lovely summer, a nice one for being out in and for looking out at. Last winter's polar vortex blasted many things, including the stink bugs and, I think, some of the Asian tiger mosquitoes. Some of the more wonderful things that were blasted, too, like Noah's fig tree, have come back. The fig's regrowth is now about 6 feet high, with some small green figs just shaping up. The limbs are soft and seem tenuously connected to the ground, but hopefully the tree is really and truly back. Noah won't be climbing it any time soon, but at least his friend is alive and well. The butterfly bushes seem to have enjoyed their bashing by frost, and are blooming beautifully this summer, and the raspberries are large and flavorful. It has been a less friendly year for the annuals, which got a late start and are just now taking off.
Grant and I forgot our wedding anniversary this month, and it occurs to me that our anniversary is also my anniversary with this little plot of land (roughly speaking, anyway, much to my mother-in-law's horror at the time). Eleven years I have gardened this one fifth of an acre. I still remember the warm summer night we had our rehearsal dinner in the backyard, and how wonderful the cosmos and salvias looked in their crescent shaped bed that arced across the back yard. That bed is gone, and new beds have been made and unmade over the years. I don't think, though, that one has ever been as beautiful or hopeful as that first sweep of flowers cut through a scruffy lawn. Happy anniversary, garden. And you, too, Grant.