Sunday, June 22, 2014
So bright that I could make out the fluted edges of the leaves of the geraniums. So bright that the rocking chairs glowed in the shadows of the porch. So bright that across the way I could tell, even in the dark of midnight, where the field ends and the woods begin. It was the first honey moon to fall on Friday, the 13th in almost a hundred years, an event that will not happen again, according to astronomers, until 2098, an appointment I will not be able to keep.
Bare feet planted on the top step, knees folded like a pocket knife to make a ledge for my elbows, palms splayed to make a ledge for my chin, I stared at the coin of the realm floating in the southern sky. I stared and breathed a prayer of gratitude for summer.
It is not yet July and I have already planted basil, pinched its leaves, and tasted spring in homemade pesto. I have made bouquets of sweet mint and peppermint picked from the plot at my back door, dropped their leaves into tall glasses of sweet tea, and sniffed with every sip the scent of green. I have cut bunches of hydrangea, filled Mason jars and Waterford crystal vases with their purple and lavender and pale blue puffs, and cared not at all that the tables got sprinkled with hydrangea dust. I can hardly remember the ice on the ground and the frost in my breath.
Last weekend, a little drunk with the scent of honeysuckle and the sound of hummingbirds, I got out the saw and the clippers. I started by trimming some low-hanging branches from the chinaberry and sycamore trees. That was just enough to work up a good sweat, so I looked around for anything else that needed cutting back. The rosemary at the corner of the deck had grown over the fall and winter into a huge mass of dark green spikes and whorls, escaping the row of concrete edging meant to contain it and threatening to choke out the verbena, the pennyroyal, and the mint with which it shared its plot. A major pruning was in order.
I clipped and sawed and clipped and hacked. Stepped back to check the shape, snipped a little more. And all the while I was thinking about how much I like rosemary – its scent, its taste, its folklore. It has been known to repel witches and to divine the future. And it is, of course, for remembrance.
Which may be why, at some point when I paused to wipe my forehead, I remembered what my friend James had told me. James is a gardener, a rather well-known one now, and when he came to Sandhill and saw my rosemary he smiled and said, “You know, rosemary grows where strong women live.”
My next thought was, And sometimes it grows out of control. I stopped short, clippers dangling from my wrist. Is it possible that strength, too, can grow out of control? That being the competent one, the capable, dependable, reliable one can eventually, ultimately, finally become untenable?
I could see it now. The winter just past had not been only about cold and dark, but also about loss – consecutive, repetitive, chronic loss. And in the throes of competence and reliability, I had become like the rosemary, sprawling in all directions. I had run awkwardly over the boundaries that were meant to shape me, had tried to take over adjacent acreage by solving problems that weren’t mine, offering assistance that wasn’t needed. I did too much. I was too much. I was too strong.
I stared down at the rosemary and the raw, blunt edges of the branches I had so brutally cut. For a moment I wondered if I’d done the right thing. What had been full and lush was ragged and puny. I bent down low and took a breath. My lungs expanded with the scent of evergreen. Ever green. Always green.
It is hard to wield the saw on yourself. Hard to step back and check the progress. Hard to make the first pass. So you start by taking a deep breath. For remembrance. And then you go sit on the porch and stare at the moon.