Sunday in the Park
July 4, 2008
I’m not sorry to see the month of June go this year. It’s always a fickle month in the mountains and even more so this time. The first half was cold and miserable and filled with sadness. Heavy-hearted, unexpected sadness, brought on by a series of deaths. And then life bloomed in new and annoying unseasonal ways, causing hay fever to hit the town like a sniffling, weepy eyed-virus that could not be contained.
Then it skipped warm altogether and turned hot. July that penultimate summer month, appeared. And plants and flowers that normally are long done blooming by now started to appear. It is confusing, all of it. The out-of-sequence blossoms and the deaths of so many vibrant people. Jarring. That’s the word. Jarring. Every piece of it.
My own yard, my own life, affected. The tiny hours-old baby I did not know but my friends did, who came into the world only to exit in the same day. The smiling, laughing, singing waitress, who all too young left the table. The revered, elderly statesman/businessman/civic leader who served as a mentor and father figure to so many here in town. Gone. All of them gone, within hours of one another, and the grieving was stifling.
In the yard, the perennials took their own sweet time returning, even the thyme. I thought the columbines would never bloom. Or the cat mint. Or the Russian sage. The morning glories have, just now, started to climb up the trellis and each shepherd’s hook in the yard. The grandkids helped me plant the vegetable garden on a day when I was certain the sadness of my friend’s death would overtake me. Then it snowed two days later. Shaking my fists at the heavens appeared to do nothing to change the hand I had been dealt.
Sometimes I just woke up crying. Soft little tears on my cheeks. Because the sum of my losses seemed too great. Then I would saddle up and ride through the day and return home and remember what was missing. Then, on a day when I had kept the sadness at abeyance for hours, I returned home to see my lovely yard had been visited by the man who helps me with it. His crew was still there and I praised them and added that the weeds between the rock path, where the wooly thyme was turning purple with tiny flowers, those weeds could go, tomorrow.
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The next day, my sadness was held in check for hours again and I was feeling like maybe I was starting move through not past or beyond just through. Then I parked the car in my driveway and walked along the path where the new crew member was joyfully weeding. Joyfully, he had removed the weeds and showed me. And sure enough, there was no sign of green between rocks. No sign, either, of the purple wooly thyme that had taken years to take hold and grow just so. And I was so angry. Angry at myself first for not knowing Spanish better and not being able to give clearer instructions. And angrier still at the obvious metaphor. I thought the thyme would be there. I thought, since I worked so hard to care for it, it would always be there. But the time was gone and the things I meant to say at those opportunities were gone too.
I didn’t know anymore if my tears were from sadness or the visible yellow pollen from the pine trees. Oh, about that maple tree. Did I mention it? Usually the tree pollinates much earlier and the neighborhood kids love the little helicopters that fall. The seed pods are a strange shape (kinda like a "7" or an "L" depending upon which way you look at them). As they fall, they spin, which is how the kids came to give them the name of helicopters. I just found them exquisitely annoying this season. They fell with grand profusion. All over the carefully clipped grass. Into the flower pots. All over the morning glories. On the yard furniture. For more than a week now, every time I’m in the yard, I’m stepping over them and trying to pick up the cream-colored pods. As they have dried, their shape has changed, only slightly. The edges of the extension have become a bit layered, a bit feathery.
This week the garden and I are somewhat happier. The vegetables are popping up with shoots of green for everything from the snow peas to spinach. The pansy faces have forced me, more than once, to smile. And the sky and the air, in that transitional hour from daylight to twilight, cause me to pause and be grateful, if only for a little while. The clouds become backlit, really under-lit, and colors never seen before, take over normal pinks and blues and lavenders. I try desperately to be still for that hour, the Scottish call, in the gloaming.
Thanks to the good neighbor folks at State Farm, I have a new porch to sit on after the collapse of the old one from the winter snows. It is still raw redwood and the smell is a kind of perfume on a warm summer night. So last evening I sat there, without any furniture, on the new stoop and watched the sun take its leave. And I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, how the bleeding-heart bush was magnificent. Never grander, really. Full, full of bleeding hearts.
Then I spotted yet another pair of seed pods/helicopters on the grass. But something was different about them. They were headed in opposite directions. Think of a pair of sevens, back to back. Upon examination, I saw that same pattern repeated all over my yard. And though the thyme was gone on my treasured stone pathway, the pairs of feathered pods were everywhere. And I saw they looked just like wings. Like so many pairs of angel wings. And I cried a bit, again, but it was a quiet thank you, kind of a prayerful exchange, in the not-quite night.
If only for moments in the continuum of time, I realized I had known what kindness and greatness and joy looked like through the deeds and laughter of my friends. It makes me both rich beyond measure and mindful. If I know this and don’t try to live it, then the gifts were wasted on me and that would be something to be sad about, all the rest of the days of my life.
So I gathered up a pair of those helicopter/seed pod/angel wings and I put them inside, on a table, next to a sprig from the full, full bleeding hearts. You can create little altars anywhere. I will do my best to honor my friends by trying, trying hard, to live by incorporating some of their amazing traits. It won’t happen all the time but it might, on occasion, it just might, on some random Sunday in the Park
Teri Orr is the director of the Park City Performing Arts Foundation that provides programming for the George S. and Delores Dore Eccles Center for the Performing Arts and the Big Stars Bright Nights Summer Concert Series at Deer Valley. She is also a former editor of The Park Record.