Sunday in the Park
July 7, 2007
This time of year my days end and begin pretty much the same way, with a voice in my head whispering, "go outside." It doesn’t matter how early I wake up or late I go to bed, there is a powerful magnetic pull that pushes me to be outdoors. Not deep in some forest primeval, but just beyond my own walls and into my own yard. I’d say my own garden but then you might think I have some space that has flowering vines and carefully designed borders and splashes of colors that grow up along creek beds where water crashes over rocks. That is my friend’s house, who has the gardens that each year expand— grass gardens, fairy gardens, the pond, the secret garden. A place so magical with sculptures and benches and whirly gigs that it is (almost) dizzying in its thoughtful execution of meditative space.
No, mine is a just yard surrounding an old tract house from the 70’s. A comfortable space with a tiny front porch and sagging back porches where the morning glories are the perennial perennials. The catmint has returned with a flourish in several spots and the bleedings hearts are dripping with color. The hollyhocks are getting ready to flower and the columbines are putting on a show. This year I mixed it up a bit, I put the fuchsias in pots and I hung the baskets with lavender, rosemary, sage and thyme oh, and a couple of pansies for good measure. The smooth tiny rocks that make up the path through the vegetable garden have been set in sand this year and I’ve added a few more pounds of polished rocks for the neighborhood kids to come over and put, one by one, all summer long, into their pockets. And I confess, on days when I know the grandchildren are coming up, I go to Expanding Heart and buy a couple of the little rock hearts and plant them in the path. One day I might confess those rocks didn’t just appear in nature in my yard but for now, we all enjoy the delusion and the discovery.
For years I have been a woman with peony envy. Yards all over town produce floppy-headed flowers that would burst with color, right about now. There was a pair down by The Racquet Club whose heavy heads always hit the ground. One pale, pale pink one around the corner from my house and a white one up in Old Town in front of an old miner’s shack turned million dollar doll’s house. My late neighbor, Gwen had such a plant. A full green bush that would hold tight buds for weeks before releasing the shout of hot pink that would drop luscious petals on our shared lawn. When she passed away a few years ago and her family came up to clean up her yard, I was so afraid they would take that lone bush out. I confess, I may have even said something to them as they pulled up the rhubarb from her yard, about what joy that bush gave. They have become beloved neighbors in no small part perhaps, because the bush survived.
Then it occurred to me, slow learner that I am, that perhaps I could consider planting a peony of my own. I had heard they don’t always bloom the first year, maybe longer. That they attracted ants. That a frost or a wind could snap their necks. I understood gardening is not science, at all. More an art. But really more an understanding that things don’t always bloom where they are planted and nature has surprises meant to teach us horticultural tolerance. And sure enough, the first two years, my peony did not flower. It did bud the second year but that was all. Last year, for the first time, I had my own riot of hot pink. Well, if you consider two blooms making a riot and I did. The plant is in a side yard where the canopy of trees that create the only lush piece of grass my non-sprinkled yard has ever seen, has taken years to develop. I call it the quiet garden. There are half a dozen bird feeders there, a couple of Adirondack chairs with peeling paint, and a stone path covered in thyme, that right now has tiny purple flowers all in bloom. It is largely just a lot of green and so the tight buds that kept me waiting for weeks burst forth last week and this year I had five giant flowers that are losing their petals right, about, now.
I might have missed them. In the comings and goings of my own frenetic life of intensity colored by things that we are taught to think matter. But I learned, not so long ago really, the value to listening to voices that whisper powerful admonitions to be gentle with one’s self. And so I invested this year in replacing a piece of my deck. A friend has a friend whose brother owns a quarry and she brought me fine, flat, sparkly stones, native to this state. After ripping out one sagging piece of porch I had the stones laid in some kind of broken up jigsaw puzzle that created a new space where the old furniture looks pretty good. The wooden wine box turned planter box is over flowing with both full bodied and delicate, reds and whites in flower, just a little subtle gardening humor. Just as the Russian sage planted next to the bleeding hearts makes me laugh when I round that corner of the yard.
I still put in a full day at work, in fact, this is the time of year when one full day often bleeds into the next before I return home, rest and start again. But the whispering of the aspens or the mourning doves that call me outside to begin and end the day are powerful talismans to the season. And I heed them. In the morning, I drink my tea on the porch and watch the gold finches perch on the feeder surrounded by pansies and Johnny jump-ups. At night, when the hot sun has left the new stone patio still warm, I sit at the picnic table and try to name the stars.
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I used to think that communing with nature involved a backpack and being dirty for days on end with scabby knees and no china tea cups in sight.
I really am slow to learn.
When you live in the mountains and the seasons can seem too long or too short, depending upon your interests, you learn to savor the differences. What is precious now, is the ice cream truck that slowly winds its way into our neighborhood each evening at twilight. The coltish teenage girls giggling on porch swings. The toddlers digging in sandboxes. The flicker appearing at the feeder and tapping at my chimney. The red-headed wren resting on the wicker arm of the outdoor rocker.
I need to check the strawberries daily. I am willing to share a certain portion with the birds but I try to harvest a few sweet, sweet berries in the early morning. The cosmos need dead heading and the new wire feeder is almost out of sunflower seeds. The basket of magazines sits next the porch swing, in case I want to flip though stories on a page, but mostly I try to read my yard right now. Read the season. So I heed the whispers and "go outside" every chance I get, which will include, I hope, this very Sunday, in the Park