Teri Orr: All the things growing…
The outdoor living room was ready this week and I tested it — with my young friends who are now full-time neighbors since last fall. I know they have been very diligent in their quarantine time because of a relative with cancer they needed to protect. We social-distanced in the garden which is just starting its trajectory toward fullness. Meaning — the seat cushions have been placed on the lawn furniture but the annual flowers and plants are mostly still in containers waiting to be planted.
This week — because of the spectacular weather — I have returned to the garden and it feels so right and also somehow important. The birds that have frequented my yard for decades were mostly absent this winter and rightly so — there was no reason to stop by because I had stopped filling the feeders. I have a very large yard on a corner lot in an old neighborhood in Park Meadows — lower Park Meadows — so when I say large I mean relative to me maintaining it — not actual acreage. It has provided me and my little family with endless hours of space to dream and play games and porch-sit with neighbors and friends. So when I counted up over 30 bird feeders of all sizes and materials and capacities this past spring when I took them all down for a cleaning, I realized there was a very good reason it had been so very quiet at home all winter. I had not been an attentive or even dependable feeder. I had abandoned my responsibility.
Which is a pretty fair way to look back on the last few time-warped months. I had hunkered down and in and tried to make sense of my indoor spaces (I am only a little over halfway there) and I communicated consistently with only a few very close friends. I didn’t have the space or the energy or the understanding to expand my circle.
This week I tossed out the feeders that had not wintered well and I scrubbed the rest and let them dry in the sun — it seemed like the smart thing to do for the birds and myself. Then I filled them all with the seed that had been waiting all winter in the garage. Sunflower seeds and thistle don’t exactly age out. It didn’t take long before the alerts started. Not exactly birdsongs at first — more like pronouncements — hey guys there’s food over here. And then, by Day Two, more kids arrived and started singing. It was then I realized how seamlessly white and quiet the winter really had been for me.
My young friends sat side-by-side at the backyard table and I sat across from them and we talked about big things like climate change and corporate greed and the fact that Africa is a continent and not a country. We listened to some music, we ate some — not exactly elegant snacks that I made certain they saw me open safely and I let them pour from a bag of nuts so no one was putting their hands in a bowl. It is a new way to gather and I am certain we will all learn smart new patterns of engagement. Cupcakes for dessert because they come in their own little jackets and they are the perfect portion size (if you eat two). It was like the birdsongs restarting — these two young, smart, so-very-in-love humans asking questions and having answers and engaging with the old broad in a way that fed my heart.
Right now the morning light is bright and tree leaves are spring green and vibrant. The hollyhocks that will be tall in weeks with bright flowers — right now — are just short green giant leafed bushes along the weathered wooden fence. There is a peaceful easy feeling here that I know is an illusion of my own making. But I need to feed on the green right now and on the light — because the summer ahead has darkness written all over it and for those of us of a certain age there is a cellular memory of race riots and political unrest of the late ’60s and the ’70s and which was such a violent time in America.
We were young and hopeful and idealistic and wanted to see immediate change in our great country. We thought we were woke and ready. We were neither. But we were hopeful that change could come and some did. And some things got better. But not the systemic stuff.
Living to see a good human — a black man become president in my lifetime was remarkable and he did this country proud and governed with grace and wisdom that belied his young years. And those eight years — while many of us were proud of the choices our leaders were making and we were held in esteem in the eyes of world leaders and we started to lift up — admittedly slowly — those who needed lifting, there was an abscess forming. It was fear-based and hate-filled and so ugly I can’t use any simple words to disguise it. There are folks among us who have been planning a level of civil unrest the likes of which we have never seen in this country. Adding to that pyre is the confusion and fear and resentment of spending months inside our homes and watching our country become increasing rudderless in terms of both real leadership and hope.
I do not know what lies ahead. I know the times I have lived through before but this feels very, very different. I will need to keep the balance of the birds and hope of the garden wrapped tightly around me as we head into a revolution we should have anticipated. I will try to figure out how best I can be of service in the days ahead. There are about to be very, very different — these Sundays in the Parks…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the founder and director emeritus of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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