Morning Joy

None of us ever knows what we will wake up to, but today for me was doubly amazing. In the early morning dim darkishness, in the murky, fuzzy, just-getting-started light of pre-dawn, I opened my eyes the way I always do first thing — tentatively. You know how it is – your brain is as un-luminous as the day, your eyelids aren’t 100% cooperative in the effort to lift, the rest of your body is solidly at anchor – and time is a mystery.

Try to put yourself in that state of mind for just a moment, in that place of one-degree-past-pitch-blackness, and imagine this image all dim and silhouetted, almost indistinguishable, none of the color, only the shape of the vase against the backdrop of windows and trees. It was quite something to wake up to! Even in my brain-fuzziness, I knew it was a vase filled with beautiful lilies, my favorite. And I had to smile.

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Lovely things give us pause, and lovely things that come from a kind heart, as these did, remind us how much kindness matters. In one corner of my life or another, there’s a mess. I know everybody has a mess somewhere, some minor and almost silly, like unfinished walls and untrimmed windows, and some major and heart-wrenching, like a ravaging disease or a house fire. Lovely things and kind hearts go a long way toward balancing the picture.

One of my current minor messes is a spackling mess. Yesterday was the wet-sponging stage, followed by one last filling in of not quite perfectly flat spaces. The funky triangular windows that came out of the bedroom wall and the living room wall were replaced with sheetrock, but my shoulder issues of earlier this summer put the finishing touches on hold. Now, thankfully, sustained overhead movement is no longer impossible, and I’m tired of unfinished walls.

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Sooner or later there will be paint!

So this morning, following the silhouette of lilies, following a cup of hot tea enjoyed in crisp, early fall morning air on my oddfellow’s bench, I went downstairs to get the cans of paint that I would need to paint these rooms. I then went out to the porch and set them down on the dropcloth Samuel’s got there for the little table he’s refinishing.

That’s when Beauty came to me in another unexpected way.

I looked up, toward the garden for some reason – did movement catch my eye? There she was, a beautiful doe, way out by the far pergola. I live in the woods and deer are all around. More often I see them running than standing still. But I never grow tired of their grace and elegance, even from afar.

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I’m sure she heard me. We had a stare-down, of which she finally got bored. That all you got, lady? You just gonna stare? There must have been some good grass out there. Promptly she went back to it. I wonder if she laments being unable to get into the garden. The eight-foot deer fence has kept her kind out for years. This year they probably gathered out there, shook their heads and said to each other Pathetic attempt at a garden! We sure could help get rid of some of that feast of a weedy jungle! … Nah, forget it. Feast or no feast, that fence is waaaay too risky!

None of us ever knows what we will wake up to but today I got one image of kindness and one glimpse of wildlife. Both reminded me that some things in the world are as they should be, and very good.

A Midsummer Garden’s Dream

Thunder grumbles in the distance as the darker sky approaches. More rain is coming, more manic wetness to quench the parched ground. Dimmer it gets as the wind begins to kick, then rest, then join with allied forces for a full-on offense. Best to wait this one out, hunker down and lull myself into fantastical daydreams.

Ah, yes, in my midsummer dream, in my wistful escape from the searing heat followed by the blinding storm, there’s none of this barbaric pelting, none of this furious, unhelpful, lashing-thrashing wind, none of the blazing, burning, unforgiving sunshine that preceded it. Only gentle rain falls, only kind rays shine.

In my fantasy, all the ambitious and infiltrating weeds get cropped out (I mean pulled up!) and the perfect ratio of rain and sun, day and night, cool and warm produces loads of spectacular lilies like this one that was smart enough, lucky enough, to have peaked between weather furies.

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In my imagination, there are dozens of prize-winning gourds (not just one) like this one that was clever enough to have climbed the fence and is curvingly perfect enough to stir feelings deep within…

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…and hungry enough to take all the nutrients it needs. Just ten days ago it hung a good deal higher.

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In the realm of garden perfection, in my visions of careful tending and consistent attention, the humans would take their minds off their silly porch project and clear out all these nasty, choking, unwanted grasses.

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They’d spent less time smacking tennis balls down the driveway for this young, endlessly tennis-ball-chasing, furry, golden, retrieving creature and more time making the rest of my expansive spaces resemble the reasonably well-kept row of rudbeckia. We’ll ignore those driveway weeds for the time being.

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(Now get the dog out of the way and show them how pretty a rudbeckia can be.)

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These daisy-like perennials are having a very respectable year, all except for this poor trampled thing at the end of the row. Looking on the sunny side, at least it’s not choked out!

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In my tender garden heart, all the gladiolas would be upright…

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…like this one…

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…instead of sadly horizontal like this one, a storm victim to be sure, though trying valiantly to show off its glorious blooms despite its precarious position.

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Lastly, if I had my druthers, I would make sure every growing thing in my dominion were as healthy, as vibrant, as unattacked, as simply lovely as this impatiens.

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I can dream, can’t I?

Parallels in the Weed World

When I was a kid, my mother used to say she loved gardening because after she got all dirty, she could get all clean. Going from very icky to fresh as a daisy is more thrilling than going from almost fresh to fresh. The same is true for weeding.

Weeding a bed that is overrun (why don’t we call it de-weeding?) has a different, greater level of satisfaction for the weeder once it is decent again. This morning did not turn out to include a train ride to DC and a day with friends as I had hoped, so at 7am I hit the strawberry bed. It was in great need. It was bad.20180711_072715.jpg

Do you see strawberry plants in there among those rotten (but thriving!) tall things? See the spikey grass trying to get some sun? This photo doesn’t reveal the half of what was trying to crowd out my precious fruit-bearing plants. The following photo reveals even less, but I am trying to capture the scope of the situation. The strawberry bed is eight 8-foot fencepost-widths long, or about 64 feet.

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Before it got too hot, I went to town on the mess. See all that fuzz toward the other end. That’s the really bad part.

While pulling out the Bad, I thought about a few parallels to human life.

  1. The Bad tries to push out the Good. That’s the first thing you notice. I had a lovely strawberry bed earlier this summer which produced lovely strawberries which turned into lovely jam.

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The weeds weren’t there then (though now that I think of it I found numerous half-eaten berries out there when I picked them – surely the work of hungry squirrels). Why can’t the weeds just find somewhere else to grow? Why can’t the squirrels eat the gazillion other edible seeds and nuts on this property? Why can’t bad people leave good people alone?

2. The Bad tries to masquerade as the Good, tries to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, tries to fool you as counterfeit among the genuine. The tall, overachiever weeds are obvious, as is the spikey grass, but hidden among the strawberry plants are various weeds trying to look like strawberry plants, trying to infiltrate and blend in – playing their can’t-catch-me game. They think I can’t tell the difference, but pretty doesn’t always win (some of the nasty ones are pretty – does that sound like real life or what?). I’m smarter than that, but they are robust intruders with determined roots that get a foothold in an area by wrapping their strong tentacle-like roots around the (supposed-to-be-there) strawberry roots. I am ruthless. However…

3. You don’t always get all the Bad out. See these horrid little roots?

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You can’t get all that. Insidious is the word. The next time they get water from rain or the sprinkler, they will begin to come to life once again, you can bet on it. They keep their agents hidden but ready to pounce at the first opportunity. Sound like anything else in this world?

But someone has to get the bad guys. Whether you are part of crime dramas in real life or you watch them on a screen in your living room, you notice that the detectives and the police have unrelenting obstacles and are perpetually short on time, facts and help. They bumble, they see false clues, they have their own issues that trip them up. Yet they are determined to expose the wrong, get the bad guys and make it right. They keep going. Our military, God bless them, also keep going despite the danger and setbacks. Strong fights strong. What if it didn’t? What if it just said We’ll never obliterate the Bad altogether so why try? But it is also true that…

4. You can’t save all the Good. Some of the good, healthy, wonderful strawberry plants ended up in the wheelbarrow because they were just too entwined with the Bad. In the bigger world, the innocent are often victims for lots of reasons, and you don’t have to look far for examples. Watched The Eichmann Show on Netflix last week – unspeakably horrendous. Follow the news every day and there are always new, sad images. But just because there will be loss, terrible, sorrowful loss sometimes, doesn’t mean you don’t do what you can. The Good has to keep going…

5. Let the exposed part lead you. With some of these weeds, especially where the situation at ground level is rather thick, I start where I can see and work my way down to the base. Then I pull. If you pull too soon, you just break it midway and that’s pointless — the thing will be back in no time. Same for our everyday. Take care of what you can see in front of you as best as you can, and then move on to the next thing. As you make headway, you can see what you couldn’t see before and you have some experience and can do a better job with the next thing. I like how Jordan Peterson puts it: “Clean up your room.” Clean up your own room before you start addressing the ills of the world at large. Do what’s in front of you first. If you can’t get a small thing under control, if you are inept at the small things, what makes you think you can tackle the big things? If you don’t get the weed you can see out of the way, the situation is overwhelming. One thing at a time.

Along the way, surely…

6. You sometimes encounter nice surprises. Some people would say this fellow is a pest and I should relocate him to the woods. I think he’s nice (to say nothing of funny-looking) and I don’t mind him a bit. For the most part my garden plants are in raised beds which he cannot possibly get to. Then again, maybe he is the one who left all the half-eaten (ground-level) strawberries behind!

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I went to the garden to weed the strawberry bed. I moved slowly from one end of the bed to the other, mostly on my knees, mostly looking down as the job requires. Sometimes though, you have to stand up to stretch or move to a new space, and then you see things from a different angle, you see the big picture a little better, you see things you didn’t realize were there.  Once when I stood up I saw that the lilies had opened! Just yesterday they were still preparing for their grand show. What a nice surprise!

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Do stand up and look at things from a different angle sometimes. It’s amazing what another perspective will reveal!

7. Reuse and recycle has all kinds of applications. What did I do with the wheelbarrow full of weeds? Gave it to the chickens! If the chickens could get in my garden (how they would love this!), they would eat a variety of greens – and mostly not the ones I want them to eat of course. But they do love greens. And they are discerning enough to pass by the less desirables. So I gave it all to them, and I expect they quickly found the good stuff, including forfeit strawberry plants, the ones that were growing in the path or too entangled with weeds. And they have something to play around with for a while. Maybe a worm or two got transferred as well. Happy, happy chickens!

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When the weeds were mostly out (I say mostly because I am not anal about such things) I went and got the old towels and sheets that would serve as a barrier between the earth and the mulch I planned to put in the path to help prevent future weeds. This was another good re-use because what else am I going to do with all those old things? (And again thank you, Bertie!) I started laying them out and guess what I discovered?

8. There’s a comedian in every bunch! As soon as I laid a towel down, Coco appeared out of nowhere.

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What? she says, Is there a problem here? I proceeded to lay out the rest of my cloths and she held her ground, snoozing happily away.

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I said to myself, How long will she stay there? How much mulch does it take for her to get the idea to move? You tell me:

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Okay, a little more. Don’t let me disturb your beauty sleep.

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Fine, then she just moves over to the next bit of soft.

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Coming closer, still no concern.

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Hey, trying to relax here!

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There really is no choice, sweetie pie. You have to move.

Of course she finally did.

9. Sometimes you are the only one who sees the difference. I know that the world is not going to come to an end if I don’t get my strawberry bed weeded. But I’m glad it is, and it’s a far sight better than it was yesterday.

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P.S. The tall plants in the foreground are rhubarb. They do belong there.