Sunday, May 31, 2015

Water, Water Everywhere

The clouds that teased rain have drifted away to empty themselves elsewhere and I am left to do the watering myself.  I have planted strategically so that the hose does not have to be dragged all over the yard.  I can, for the most part, stand on the deck and reach every thirsty green thing.  
The hydrangeas are thriving in the low, shaded spot between the deck and the carport, pale blue heads pushing their way out through the dark leaves on thick stems.  Down by the steps the coreopsis is fading as the lantana comes to life and the Mexican petunias are just beginning to bud.  The Russian heather is already tall and gangly, moving in the breeze like teen-aged boys shuffling their feet on the edge of the dance floor.  On the other side in the corner, the rosemary has been cut back and hasn’t quite recovered from the shock, but the lemon balm and verbena and mint are happily rushing over and around each other.  I can’t help pinching a leaf and crushing it between my fingers.  The scent is sweet.
The three pots on the deck contain a single bright pink Gerbera daisy, a good crop of basil, and a citronella plant.  Eventually, I tell myself, I will find the time to come outside after dark, sit back in the reclining chair, and test its powers at repelling mosquitoes.  Eventually, but not tonight.  Tonight I’m just watering.
The dial at the end has somehow been moved to a position between two of the settings.  I don’t notice and turn on the water expecting a steady stream in one direction.  What I get is an erratic shooting and significant drip.  It takes only a couple of seconds to adjust the nozzle, but in that time I can’t help noticing how many choices I have.  Jet. Mist. Flat. Cone. Shower. Angle. Center.  Plus something called “½ Vert.”
A true gardener, someone like my Grandmama Anderson, could probably tell me which one is best for each of my green things.  A true gardener, however, I am not.  I settle for center which shoots forth water at a rate slower than jet, but faster than shower.
Watering, I have found, puts me into a rather meditative state.  There’s nothing for me to do except stand there and hold the nozzle steady while water and gravity do the hard work of reaching the invisible and indispensable roots.  So I find myself thinking about those settings – jet and mist and flat, cone and shower and angle – and how, at various times and through various experiences, I’ve been watered by every single one.
Getting fired from my first job as a lawyer was a jet, a hard fast blast that tore at the ground around my trunk and left me standing in a puddle of mud.  The years I spent at Wesleyan were a fine mist, gentle and consistent.  The loss of people I’ve loved were hard angles, leaving me off kilter, and realizing my dream of being an author was a shower, a baptism of satisfaction and joy.  

I push the lever that closes the nozzle.  By the time I get to the spigot to turn it off, the water –  all of it –  has soaked into the ground.   I hope that I have been that receptive.  I hope that I have absorbed the jet and the mist with identical enthusiasm.  I hope that I have allowed the angles and the showers to nourish me equally.  I hope that with each watering, whatever its force, my roots have dug deeper into the soil.

Copyright 2015

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Little Black Dress

It is a fashion rule that has been around so long it is, like a politician, known by its initials: LBD. Little black dress. Every woman has to have one. Young or old or in-between. Southerner or Yankee, debutante or farm wife. You can dress it up or dress it down. A well-made LBD in a classic style will last forever. And you will be prepared to accept any invitation.

At last count, I had nine black dresses. Long sleeves, short sleeves, no sleeves. Cotton and jersey and wool. Sheath and shirtwaist. Tonight I am standing in the closet staring at them, hoping one of them will just jump off the hanger and end my agony of decision because, quite frankly, I’m not up to choosing. I simply can’t make it matter one bit what I will wear day after tomorrow when I get into the car and drive, yet again, to the funeral of somebody I love.

The last time I saw Denise it was the day before Easter and we were in a backyard flush with azaleas and happy children. She held the newborn baby cousin with the ease of the well-practiced, fending off with sweet smiles and gentle coos anyone who ventured close enough to think she might get a turn at snuggling this creature so fresh from heaven. We rolled our eyes in sugar-induced rapture and went back for seconds of the dessert she contributed to the table – a marvelous concoction made of blueberries from the farm she and Dan own just outside town, pineapple from somewhere that didn’t matter, and crunchy pecans that may or may not have fallen from Brantley County trees.

An afternoon cloudburst forced us inside for the Easter bonnet contest and, as the rest of us fools paraded through the house sporting our homemade creations and singing “Easter Parade,” Denise sat at the dining room table, chin propped in one hand, smiling and laughing quietly at us. I remember it because it was such a familiar sight – Denise as grateful audience in a family with more than its share of performers.

I am lucky, I know, that this last memory is such a sweet one. Being sweet does not, however, make it any easier to accept that it is, nevertheless and notwithstanding, the last. And it doesn’t keep me from wishing that somehow I’d known it would be the last because surely, I think, if I had known I would have ... what? Hugged harder at goodbye?

I think, though I can’t be absolutely sure, that the last thing Denise said to me, said as she released me from the hug that neither of us thought to emphasize, was, “Come see us.”

And I intended to. I intended to go to the farm and pick blueberries and walk around and talk to the horses and dogs and guinea hens. I would even let myself be bounced over the rutted edges of the fields in an ATV before sitting down in a chair by the pool and listening to Denise and the rest of the Moodys talk about the neighbors’ new babies and this year’s crop and that last trip down to Steinhatchee, all while the sun melted away behind the pine trees and left our sun-burned faces in shadow.

But before I could accept that invitation, I got another one.

So, now I am staring at a row of black dresses, clothes that are supposed to outfit me for anything, and realizing that there isn’t a little black dress in the world that can prepare a girl for this.

Copyright 2015

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Cutting Down The Bushes

Sixteen years ago the house looked like a woman without makeup, a Christmas tree without ornaments, a painting without a frame – lovely, but plain.  So I planted.  Loropetlum and Indian hawthorne and ligustrum and holly.  Lots of holly.  Compacta holly.  Nellie R. holly.  Yopon holly.  And, along the eastern wall with four windows that framed the morning sun every day and the rising full moon twelve times a year, burfordi holly.  Eighteen burfordi holly.
They arrived in black plastic containers the size of sand buckets and, thrust into holes carefully computed to be exactly the same distance apart, they looked awfully puny.  As though plants could have rickets.  How they would ever turn into anything that resembled a hedge was beyond me.
As Nature does, though, she stayed on those little holly bushes like a Parris Island drill sergeant and before I knew it they had grown together in a long spiky row, a line of fatigue-clad Marines standing at attention and armed with bayonets.  And by the next time I took a good look tiny red berries were poking through the spaces between the stiff curved leaves.  That Christmas I clipped enough to circle some candles and spread down the mantle.  
The bushes kept growing, oblivious to waves of drought and over-wet winters.  They grew as tall as the brick foundation, as tall as the porch.  They made a little house around the heat pump.  They stayed green all year long reminding me that some things do last.  I had them trimmed a couple of times, the rogue sprouts and renegade branches surrendering easily to a few quick slices of the chain saw.  Beyond that, though, they did their job in the face of benign neglect. 
Neglect, however, is never really benign.  Plants and places and people need attention and, eventually the failure to notice, to tend, to make a priority will result in wild overgrowth. 
I was sitting in my study the other day, doing my best to pull words from the outer space that is my imagination.  I lifted my fingers from the keyboard and pushed my chair away from the desk, turned my head to look out the window.  It is what I always do to catch my mental breath, to dust the furniture and sweep the floor of all the thought dust that has collected in my mind.
The flat fields, the open road, the far line of pine trees.  The loop of the power line cutting across the clouds.  Sometimes a wavy V of geese or a there-and-gone-again streak of hawk.  I can see through those panes of glass enough of the world to remind me of how small I am, how small my problems are.  I can see enough of life to make me want to fling open my arms, dropping all the valueless trinkets and embracing the magic and mystery of all that is.
Only this time I couldn’t see anything but shiny green leaves and a thin sliver of sky.
While I’d been otherwise occupied, while I’d been encumbered with much doing, while I’d been benignly neglecting the holly, it had grown so high that it blocked the light.  I looked around the room.  I hadn’t even noticed how dark it was.  Hadn’t noticed that I’d had to turn on the overhead light in the middle of the day. 
I went outside to take a look.  All the way down the side of the house the holly bushes had grown into trees.  All four windows were covered with only the head jambs and parts of the very top panes visible.  Every single day I had seen that side of the house.  Driving home from work, ending a long walk.  And I’d never noticed that the light was being driven out.  I had adapted to the darkness without even knowing it.
It didn’t take long to make the larger application, to realize that I’d probably done the same thing with figurative darkness.  Check.  Got it.  Now on to getting those bushes trimmed.
Except that it wasn’t so easy.  I started looking for someone to trim, prune, cut back, – shoot! – cut down if necessary.  I made phone calls, sent emails, asked for referrals.  Nobody wanted the job.  And that’s when that larger application became more real.  
Recognizing the darkness isn’t the real problem.  It doesn’t take a lot to realize that you’re spending too much, eating too much, drinking too much.  Most of us know ourselves well enough to see when our anger is out of control or our laziness is interfering with our work.  The hard part is finding the person inside who is willing to stop the spending, the eating, the drinking, who is willing to take control of the anger and put aside the laziness.  The hard part is finding somebody to cut down the bushes.
I think I’ve found somebody.  He’s coming in a couple of weeks.  I hope I can stand it that long.