Spring in the Garden

“Spring is the season of exquisite redemption, a slam-bang return to joy after a season of cold second thoughts.” ~Barbara Kingsolver​

It’s been since late October that I put my garden tools away. Rosebushes pruned, dead annuals piled up in the green waste bin, the very last of the weeds pulled. A few new bulbs planted.

But now it is spring. Now it is time to go back outside and greet my garden.

When I stepped out onto my grass yesterday morning, my bucket in my gloved hands, I had to pause for a moment. Under my maple tree—the tree we planted when Haley was one week old—the daffodils are blooming, mixed with three shades of pink hyacinths. Already the crocus are passed and gone, the Grecian windflowers almost over, but the rosebush is spreading out its red leaves and the poppy is a tidy green mound.

20200404_151322 spring in the garden

I set my bucket down next to the rosebush that in another month will bloom its pale magenta blossoms, the first thing I planted in my flower beds, and just walked around my front yard. My front yard. More hyacinths, more daffodils, the grass so green now, and one orange tulip. I sat on the steps of my front porch, and before I got to work I just took it in. Just savored it. Just felt it all once again, my little-girl self who loved flowers more than almost anything, who sometimes lay in the dirt under a cornstalk just to see if she could watch the purple morning glories open. The barely-an-adult person who planted that first rosebush. My faint but true memory of my grandpa Fuzz kneeling next to me so he could answer right in my ear that the delightful flower I had just found in his garden was called a bleeding heart. Watching my dad plant the maple tree in our front yard, witnessing its yearly growth from my bedroom window and then, years later, watching my kids climb it. Planting my first spring bulbs in the autumn before Haley was born, planting hostas one spring day with Jake when he was three. Nathan crawling towards bright orange daylilies on a hot day in August, Kaleb lining up and making patterns with the garden tools. All the days of my children’s childhoods when they would play outside with friends and I would watch them while I gardened, and every so often they’d stop by to help. The way it felt, the spring after Dad died, to see the tulips, daffodils, and grape hyacinths he’d planted bloom even though he was gone—like a greeting, like a reminder that he loved us still.

20200404_132840 amy porch 6x6

I sat there on my porch, where I have sat some minutes or hours during the days of the past 26 years. This place I have owned and cared for. This garden I have cared for, and which cares for me. I know—maybe that sounds silly. How do flowers do anything but bloom? But they do care for me. They lift my spirits. There is a restorative power in their presence. They are like friends, returning each year. My trees are confidants and sometimes I just stand next to them, touching their bark and feeling their deep connection to the earth and thus finding my own place upon it. They are each a symbol, of a sort, of memory and of who I have loved and been loved by and of hope.

20200404_112436 spring in the garden tulip 4x6

“To plant a garden,” Aubrey Hepburn said, “is to believe in tomorrow.” When that orange tulip first bloomed—only a few weeks before Haley was born—it was already a connection to the past autumn day when I planted it. But it was also a connection to Saturday, when I sat with it at my feet, when I leaned in close to examine its dusty stamens, when I texted that same daughter.

A garden is hope for the future, but it is also connection to the past. It is nurturing and being nurtured.

I know not everyone has this blessing. I know not everyone needs or even wants it.

But I am still as grateful today as I was that day, when I was 22 and learned how to plant roses, to have my place, to have my garden, to love my flowers and hug my trees and walk barefooted through my green, soft grass.

20200404_112554 spring in the garden 4x6


Spring Flowers

It rained today. It was chilly and windy and grey, and finally, in the afternoon, the tension broke and the rain fell.

Then the clouds cleared and the world lit up. The mountains were soft white with a new layer of snow against the blue sky. Water droplets sparkled on hyacinth blooms, daffodils waved in the wind.

Daffodils 2019

I thought about my mom, who loved spring. Earlier in the day, I took Kaleb to her house so he could clean her yard as part of the preparations for selling her house. He cleared weeds, trimmed bushes and plants, raked up leaves. It was a mess when he started, clean and tidy when he was done. Her daffodils weren’t blooming yet, or her tulips, but the leaves were out.

I remember this feeling from when my dad died. How, the next spring, the grape hyacinths he had planted still bloomed, even though he wasn’t there.

My mom didn’t stay in that house in Springville, the one where we all grew up. She sold it and moved so she could be closer to me and my sisters, but I’m not sure she ever forgave us for pushing her to move. Now that’s she’s gone and we are finishing cleaning out the house she lived in for such a short time, I find myself filled with regret. Maybe we should’ve just left her in her house in Springville. Where all the memories were, my dad’s rocks and his tulips, his lilac bush and his saw blade nearly swallowed by his honey locust. Where every spring my mom filled containers with flowers. Where things grew. Where we laughed, fought, cried, played, celebrated.

But, here we are in this reality.

I touched the leaves of the tulips. I thought about her planting them, and now she’s gone. She’s gone, but the flowers are still here.

Then I came home to my own house, my yard where every living thing was planted by me. The daffodils I planted when I was pregnant with Haley are still coming up every year, even though she is grown up and in a different state now. The hostas I planted one spring afternoon with Jake’s help the summer he was three, while Nathan napped and Kaleb was still only a wish—they are poking their heads up, too.

I love spring flowers. There might not be anything more joyful than the scent of a hyacinth on the cool air. They are reminders that cold doesn’t last forever, the world cycles, things change, but they also repeat.

Those bulbs I planted could last longer than I do.

And again I am hit with that strange feeling, one I don’t have an exact, single word for. The way that we come into the world, and we do something. Even if it is only loving other people, we do something. We have a work. We plant flowers, we take photographs, we write our memories. We raise children, sometimes, and we make mistakes, even though when they were born we promised them we wouldn’t. We leave scars. Hopefully we leave knowledge, too. And the surety of being loved.

We come, we stay for awhile, we leave. Other things last longer than us: trees, rosebushes, quilts, photographs. Hopefully, though, something of us still remains, in the curve of a cheek or a shade of hair, but also in a way of doing things that our descendents don't even realize was ours and yet they do it anyway.

My mother loved spring flowers; my grandmother loved purple flowers. Maybe one day I will have great-great grandchildren who plant purple hyacinths, windflowers, crocus, just because they love them, not knowing their mother's mother's mother loved them.

(If there are still flowers, and spring, and water, and blue skies in that future.)

Every spring, my flowers bloom the earliest of anyone I know. Every year, when they start blooming, I would tell my mom: the flowers are blooming! Winter will end!

How strange I cannot tell her that this year.

How strange that I am here to see them. That any of us are, really.

How miraculous.

Hyacinths purple


Thoughts on Gardening

When I was growing up, my dad made us a beautiful yard. There were flowers and roses, gardens marked out with stones, a maple tree, a locust. We had a vegetable garden and a peach tree.

Being outside in that yard made me happy. Even when I was angsty and bitter as a teenager, I’d still sometimes sit out in the backyard, surrounded by the beauty my dad made, look at the mountains and feel a sense of peace.

But I never once—not once—helped him. I didn’t mow the lawn, prune the rosebushes, pull weeds, rake leaves. It was all my dad’s project, and I can’t help but wonder why. It’s not even that he asked us to help and we grumbled about it. It was just never a thing we did. Never a thing I even thought about doing.

But one of my greatest joys in my adult life is having a house with a yard.

Rose

If I could have 8 back, or 7, or 12, or 15, here is what I would do: I would ask my dad if he had another rake. I would go out to the backyard, under the honey locust tree, and I would rake leaves with him. Maybe we would talk. Maybe we would work silently. Maybe I would ask him: How do you feel about this space? Do you love it or resent it? Do you wish we helped you, or do you like the solitude?

Tell me how to prune the rosebushes, I’d ask him.

Tell me how to keep the trees healthy, the lawn green, the daffodils still blooming every spring.

And if I had my 20s and 30s back, I would do what I did with my own children, except more often. Let them spill outside into the warm spring air, the chilly fall light, the heat of summer. Give them a little trowel of their own, teach them what is a weed and what is a flower. Call them over to admire a potato bug or a spider, let a worm crawl along their palm, celebrate the random surprise of a garden snake or too. Listen to them laugh, run, play, or just sit in the shade of the trees while I worked.

I loved those days—days they have all grown out of. Now, Kaleb mows the lawn but he grumbles about it; he rakes the leaves and picks up the apples but with deep sighs and not a few eye rolls.

Each of my kids have reached, eventually, that age when they’d rather be anywhere else than helping mom in the yard.

And maybe I can’t understand it because I didn’t ever have to do it when I was a kid. Maybe because it was always a choice rather than a chore for me, I can’t understand the annoyance.

Because for me, working in my garden hasn’t ever felt like actual work. It has always felt like a sort of relationship, a way to tell the world I love it. And a way it tells me back, too; the roses aren’t just roses to me, but a sort of friend. I prune them and fertilize them (and yes, sometimes I talk to them), and they take care of me by giving me color and fragrance.

It is about memory and connection to those who are gone, too. My dad gave me two of my rosebushes, and my dark-blue irises. A different rose bush, the one I planted near the maple tree just a few weeks after Haley was born, I chose because it smells and looks just like one my grandpa Fuzz had. I have purple pansies because one grandma loved them and a patch of purple vinca because a different grandma had them in her garden. Zinnias for Haley’s childhood, hostas for Jake’s; orange California poppies for Nathan and little purple snow crocus for Kaleb’s.

Sweet William and hyacinths for mine.

It’s a sort of alchemy, gardening. You start with seeds or bulbs or roots, add patience and sunshine and water, and then: color and fragrance, a thousand different frilly shapes. It takes work and attention, but it’s a joyful sort for me. I thought flowers were magic when I was a kid and deep down, I still do.

This weekend I spent some morning hours in my yard, raking leaves. I trimmed out the dead asters, I encouraged my poppy which might just bloom a second time this year. I deadheaded a bit. I thought about myself, when I was five and six and loved picking all of the rose petals off of Grandpa Fuzz’s flowers to make cakes for fairies. They aren’t people, of course. They can’t love me back or tell me their stories with words. But they lift my heart—my trees, my flowers. They give me hope. They remind me that there is beauty still left in this world for now. It’s November and some of them are still blooming and I know that is evidence of the way we damage the world, but what can I do? Besides mulch, besides yank away the bindweed, besides stop and appreciate the sheer, remarkable beauty of light through a petal. Besides care for my tiny piece of the world, and relish the care it returns to me.

I always want flowers.


Currently: The 2017 Late-Summer Edition

feeling the edge of summer. It's still hot here, and it will still be hot. But summer is starting to crumble.

Rose

grieving the end of summer. I don't really know how to deal with this feeling; my whole life is either looking forward to autumn or enjoying autumn. Maybe because this was Nathan's last summer before graduation, and I didn't accomplish almost anything I wanted to? Or maybe because I've had two traumatic autumns in a row, and my psyche can't imagine that it might be a calm and lovely and happy fall? Or it might even be that if fall comes, can winter be far behind, and last winter was so dark that a new winter feels impossible to get through? I don't know. I just know the thought of summer ending gives me a lump in my throat and a sadness I don't have a name for. It almost feels like fear.

savoringthen, the end of summer. Putzing around my yard a lot, pulling weeds here and there, stopping to smell flowers, pruning and admiring and touching. Sitting on my back porch, admiring the last green of the mountains and feeling the last hot sunshine. Sitting on my front porch, soaking in the summer light in my trees. Walking barefoot in the grass.

Front porch

discovering that I actually do like salads. I've always preferred soup. But I've discovered that I like non-boring salads with lots of different ingredients that (this is the key) someone else makes. Current favorites: the California cobb at Zupa's and the raspberry chicken at Costa Vida. The thought of buying and prepping all of those ingredients exhausts me. But picking one up for lunch or dinner? OK! (I am still a microdipper though: I only like a tiny bit of dressing.)

eating lots of berries and peaches and the heirloom tomatoes my neighbor let me pick last night from his yard. And watermelon—I try to have a diced up watermelon in my fridge at all times, all summer long.

Orange cherry tomatoes

appreciating the late-August blooms. Daylilies, purple bells, columbine, cone flowers, clematis, daisies: all done blooming. But I still have petunias, which are like limpid puddles of fragrant velvet. And zinnias! I always plant pink zinnias, but this year I also planted some mixed-color seeds. I have a beautiful yellow zinnia that I can’t stop admiring! 

Yellow zinnia

drinking Simply limeade and/or raspberry lemonade. This is on sale at Target all summer so I break my usual don't-drink-your-calories rule. It's sour and sweet and so delicious; another summer-long staple at our house.

reading. My house book is The Last Neanderthal (a prehistory crossed with a contemporary) and my purse book is The Promise of Shadows (Greek mythology retelling of a YA novel about a harpy/human girl). Wait, what? You don't have a house book and a purse book? I like to always have a book in my purse so I can read whenever. Yes...I could switch to e-books and stop carrying a book around with me. But I just like print books better.

listening to Bastille, Bleachers, and Bush. Also Lorde. And yes: Depeche Mode has been on heavy repeat.

listing a bunch of stories I want to get scrapped in September. I didn't do much scrapbooking over the summer and I am ready to get back to it.

writing an essay based on an ah-ha moment I had when we were in Hawaii, and feeling determined to polish it and submit it somewhere. It's got dolphins and stretch marks and turquoise water and fear and sadness and joy. Too much drama?

thinking about all of the travel I’ve done over the past 15 months and wondering why I haven’t written much about it. I want to blog about those experiences!

practicing Spanish with Nathan. He is loving the language and picks it up quickly. It's good for me to remember it and speak it as it's helped me be brave enough to use it a few times at work. I enjoy our Spanish conversations, even if they're sort of halting and filled with gaps while we try to remember a word (or Google it!).

celebrating (very quietly) that Kaleb seems like a new kid now that he's started school. He is so much happier as a junior high student than he was as a sixth grader—I hadn't realized how unhappy he'd grown until I saw him start being his happy self again.

recuperating from taking the shingles off of our roof last weekend. It was hard work; my arms are covered in slices and scratches and bumps from the fiberglass; I have a bruise on my right shin and my left thigh from bashing the shingles against my legs, and my hands are stiff. But it was an experience I will never forget (and will likely blog about).

finishing up a few summer TV shows: The Strain and Turn ​both had their final seasons this summer, and then there was that newest season of Game of Thrones, which left me pretty conflicted.

driving our Corolla because we sold our minivan and haven't bought anything new. We can't decide if we should just drive the Corolla or get what we want (a Highlander). Are we being indulgent to get such an expensive vehicle? We can't decide. I might decide for us, though, once it starts snowing. Anyway, plenty of test driving and discussing our options and I can't decide: if we do get the Highlander, do I want silver or pearl?

training for a late-fall half marathon, although I haven't actually signed up for a fall half marathon. I really want to run the Rimrock Half but the logistics are giving me stress. Or maybe Snow Canyon again? And am I even strong enough anymore?

pondering my faith. Some recent experiences have left me heartsore and frustrated and unsure of what I believe. 

missing Jake but feeling like we've gotten closer and repaired some things that needed to be repaired, and feeling like he's finding a stronger emotional place for himself. Things are getting a little bit better.

missing Haley but feeling so proud of her—she's doing an extra year of college but will have two majors and three minors when she graduates next year. She's handled a full load of difficult classes and lots of hours of working with strength and courage.

appreciating the structure of our at-home family. Which isn't to say I don't miss my kids who have grown up and moved out. I do miss them! But as they have​ moved out, I am trying to enjoy how our family at home is structured and how it works. Haley visits, Jake visits, we still see each other and talk on the phone and text; they’ll always be my kids and I still worry about them. But my life feels different now that I am not actively taking care of their needs. Four people make a lot less laundry than six did! Seriously, though. One of my friends wrote on Facebook about how she felt like her world was ending because her oldest was moving out. I remember feeling that way, too, when Haley left for college, but finding on the other side that the world doesn’t end, it simply changes. The only way you can make peace with the changes is to embrace them.

wondering (hoping? dreading? anticipating? fearing?) if some long-pondered and discussed changes might finally be in the works. Time will tell!

How is your world currently?

Petunias


What Else Would I Do on a Friday Afternoon in Summer but Plant Flowers?

Last week started out chilly: clouds and rain in the valley on Monday and Tuesday and then, when the clouds pulled away in the late afternoon, the mountains covered with new snow. During those sweet, cool days, I found myself thinking “I know that summer hasn’t even really started yet, but I’m ready for fall.”

White hosta flowers

I have a complicated relationship with summer. On one hand, I love so many things about it: the expansive freedom with the kids out of school, flowers, hiking, summer running & summer running clothes, the long evenings when the light fades so slowly, and a light breeze from the mountains kicks up and cools everything off so it’s all just perfectly warm. Mowing the lawn, lying under the trees watching the pattern of green leaves against blue sky, walking with bare feet across shady grass. Fresh corn at the farmer’s market, a watermelon in the fridge at all times, peaches—peaches!

But on the other hand, being hot makes me grumpy, and I live in Utah, where it’s hot. Plus, I’m uncomfortable all summer. I just really hate wearing shorts, because I don’t feel like they look good on me. I wear a lot of knee-length skirts to work, but honestly: I just want to wear my comfy skinny jeans, but if I do, I’m hot and prickly. And I can reverse dip as much as I want, but I continue feeling self-conscious about my triceps (I’m genetically predisposed to bat wings) so I feel sort of naked not wearing a cardigan to cover them up—but who wants to wear a sweater in 100+ degree heat? Not this girl who hates to be hot. And then there’s swimming. I’m not sure anyone except girls with thigh gaps likes hanging out in a swim suit, because inner-thigh chafing is a real, and really annoying, thing.

Obviously, my complicated relationship with summer is built squarely on top of my body issues, which I try to keep in perspective because it could always be worse, but summer makes it really, really hard to keep in perspective because my body is so much more exposed.

But that thought, so unbidden—I’m ready for fall before summer even really starts. It felt so much like my winter perspective, when I was really struggling with my depression and I didn’t want spring to come because the contrast between how I was feeling and what the world was expressing was just too much. I’m doing better, but I don’t want to slip back, and that yearning—for coolness, for darkness, for endings—felt like a backward motion.

So I resolved to delve straight into savoring summer. Savoring this summer, when Kaleb is newly-12 and trying to navigate his changing relationships with friends. When Nathan is 17, his last summer before everything changes and he, too, is ready to move on. When Kendell is starting to feel a little bit healthier, when despite some knee issues I’m ready to commit to running in a way that’s felt elusive for a while. When we’re all just a little bit committed to sun tanning (after prepping our Utah-white bodies for Hawaii).

To savor summer, I’ve been sitting outside on the patio more, eating a meal. And trying to find pleasure in the sunshine (instead of annoyance). And putting on a pair of shorts every now and then. Just trying to live in every day, in each now, instead of looking forward; trying to feel the goodness that is here (even amid the hard parts).

Wandering, quite often, around my garden, stopping to literally smell the roses, but also noticing where I needed more plants, and which plants need extra help (my rose bushes are infested with aphids, shiver). 

Astilbe

Friday was a summer day I could savor, especially sweet, and I want to remember the good bits of it.

In the morning, after Nathan and I went to physical therapy (we are both having knee issues!) we went out on the patio to eat a little breakfast, and he noticed a little quail family. The parents were shepherding the babies along the edge of our fence, and then they got to the corner. The mom flew to the top of the fence and squawked—“come up, come up!”—but the babies were too little. Nathan and I walked quietly over to the fence, so we could see better what was happening. The dad was lifting the babies, one at a time in his claws, into the gap at the top of the fence, and then carefully setting them down on the other side (in the yard without the two big dogs). The mom squawked at us so we didn’t get closer, but just watched until all the baby quail were deposted into the deep grass under the neighbor’s grapevines.

It was a privilege to witness.

Then I went to the greenhouse. A couple of weeks ago I dug out a flower bed that was making me a little bit crazy—full of morning glory vines and two different flowers that were taking over everything, crowding out my favorite blue-black iris. I dug everything out and tossed it all, except for the iris (which came from my dad, so I want to revive it if I can). So I needed something to put there.

Visiting the greenhouse is one of the pleasures of summer. I love just wandering for a while, picking the tags out of plants and reading about them, then putting them back. Taking my time to pick out just the right things. It used to be harder—when I had kids who came with me. Now, no one wants to go but me, which is bittersweet. I’d like to spend the time with them, but the solitude is nice, too. I wandered and I kept adding stuff to my wagon: petunias, and a pale-pink hollyhock, some shade ground cover, a couple of new columbines, two gorgeous lupines.

As I was checking out, there was an older gentleman behind me. He looked at all of the plants I was buying and said “I hope you’re not planning on planting all of that today!”

“What better thing could I do with a summer afternoon than plant flowers?” I responded.

He cautioned me to plant them quickly and get some water on them, and then he said “your husband is a lucky man. I love a woman who plants flowers.”

(I consciously decided to be charmed by this instead of skeeved; it really could go either way, right?)

Flowers 1

Then I went and all afternoon I planted flowers. Sixty petunias, and the hollyhock, and the lupines. Even some zinnias, which never transplant well but maybe this time will survive. As I worked, I spent some time thinking about each of my kids, and my sisters, and my mom. I gathered up the stones I unearthed as I dug and, instead of tossing them, decided to pile them up in an empty spot of one of my flower beds. I’m not sure what I’ll do with them, or even why I felt compelled to keep them, but they just make me happy.

I got a little sunburned on my shoulders and the tip of my nose.

When I was finished, I took off my gardening shoes and dragged the house around the yard, watering the flowers while the freshness of the grass soaked up through the soles of my bare feet. Once the new plants were properly watered, I sprawled out in the grass under my sycamore tree. I watched and listened to a pair of crows fly and caw through my treetops, watched the clouds move through the sky dappled with the leaves above me.

I took some deep breaths and I realized: summer is OK.

Flower bed

(I can't wait until the petunias start filling in and spreading out; this flower bed is going to be luscious with them!)


Musing on the Lack of Eternal Daffodils: a Photo Essay

On Monday afternoon, I was outside mowing the lawn when I started to notice that I needed to snip a whole bunch of daffodils and tulips that had lost all of their petals. This made me think about how fleeting time is. I love spring, the way the light warms up with the air; how trees’ shadows change form from latticework to dappled shade; the way that color returns so slowly but without hesitation until suddenly you notice: color! And the flowers, especially the flowers. Especially daffodils (even more than tulips).  I want them to last forever, but they don’t. They can’t. And maybe if they did I’d get tired of them. But they are ephemeral, and so I love their happy yellow faces, which seem elegant and welcoming all at once.

In my yard, in May, they are all but done, except for a very few left in my back yard, which faces north and is in deep shade and so is like a second, late spring.

I finished mowing and then got out my clippers and started deadheading the daffodils. Tulips, too, and a few last purple hyacinths, now a crisp grey totally devoid of fragrance. It made me a little bit sad, the spring flowers gone so soon, April almost over, the stifling heat of summer on its way. The poem I always misquote started in my head: doesn’t everything end, and too soon? (It’s actually die, not end.) I snipped dead flowers and I thought about the missed opportunities of my life, the mistakes I’ve made, the times I didn’t sit by the daffodils and savor their beauty. Life is bittersweet.

But then I started thinking about something my sister Becky wrote on Instagram, about how everything has a beginning and an end, and finding peace with this cycle (instead of sorrow) is essential to our happiness. So I took a deep breath and I looked around. Yes, that beauty of early spring has passed. But there is still beauty here, too, on the first day of May. Just the light shining through green leaves is enough to break me right open.

So I decided to take some photos of what was beautiful that afternoon, just the things I could see. To savor, to celebrate. To help myself remember that individual beauty is fleeting but the world always holds different forms of beautiful things.

Can dandelions be beautiful? Well, the light shining through these ones in my neighbor’s yard seemed beautiful to me. Did you know that bees are healthier when dandelions are plentiful?

Dandelions

Perhaps I should’ve trimmed these—they are really almost done. But I didn’t. There is just the slightest bit of yellow left, so I left them until next week.

Daffodils

Purple is one of my favorite colors of flowers. I don’t even know what this is called, but it makes me happy.

Purple flowers

My dad landscaped our yard with many large stones. When we sold my childhood home last year, I wanted to bring the large pink quartz rock to my house, but it was far too large to move without a backhoe. I settled for this one and one other. It’s like having a bit of my dad with me whenever I am outside.

Dads rock

These iris will bloom soon, but just that ruffled tip…swoon.

Iris ruffle

This white iris is always the first one to bloom. There are still some bleeding heart flowers left, too. I love it when two plants that don’t usually bloom at the same time manage a simultaneous flowering!
Iris and bleeding heart

I planted about 25 lilies of the valley, in a damp and shady spot, a few years ago, but only two or three ever came up. Their scarcity makes them sweeter.
Lily of the valley

Little purple pansies…my grandma used to sing the little song to me, so this is her face in my garden.

Purple pansies

What's beautiful in your world?


My Hyacinths are Already Spent

How can April already be halfway over?
 
I'm perhaps a little bit too insistent that my favorite season is autumn. It's probably because it's so gloriously moody. But every year, spring reminds me that it is fairly incredible as well, even if in an entirely different way. It's all the newness everywhere, the fresh color of the light, the way tiny leaf buds appear overnight. The return of color.
20140325_090147
 
I love spring.
 
But already my hyacinths have bloomed and finished; the dead stalks need to be trimmed back. The daffodils that weren't picked by errant children are just on the other side of perfectly blossomed. And there will only be a few more days to lie under the blossoming plum, looking through pink flowers to the blue, blue sky.
 
This year, somehow, spring is also teaching me that it is about the swiftness of time, the ethereal quality of beauty and newness, the way you have to grab it and see it right now, before it is gone, because it will go. Spring is full of luminosity, and of numinous moments, and the only way I know to hold them for a second is to write them down.
01 texture
 
Some spring things I've done so far:
 
  • Been woken by a storm. Usually it's only rain, and this storm had rain. Thunder, lightning, and hail as well. But what woke me was the wind. It was blowing so hard early Sunday morning that I sat up straight in bed, my heart pounding, feeling like something was trying to get in. My startled waking-up woke up Kendell, so we went and stood by the back door and watched the storm and then, when it calmed back down to just rain, went back to sleep in the soft-again silence.
    03 down low

  • Gardened so long I got a sunburn. I am enjoying my yard this year more than I have in many recent ones. I think I used to love gardening so much because my little kids would be playing around me while I worked, and then I fell a little bit out of love because they turned into big kids. I had to learn to love the solitude of it, and the simple satisfaction of physicality. I miss watching my kids while I dig in the dirt (and having them come & help me weed or plant or prune), but I am learning to love it for other reasons.
  • Sat on my front porch while the hyacinths bloomed. Is there a lovelier fragrance than hyacinths? Maybe lilacs. I have two big clumps (one pink, one purple) by my front steps, and sitting there on a warm-ish evening while the scent wafts on the wind is one of spring's greatest pleasures for me. I talked to Haley while I did this, and watched Kaleb practice juggling his soccer ball.
  • Bought something new. Maybe because my birthday is in April...but it doesn't feel like spring until I buy a new something pretty to wear. In a lucky coincidence, I found a dress I've been eyeing since January, finally on sale, so I snapped it up. I'm saving it for Easter!
    08 light

  • Put on a pair of sandals. There's something liberating about air blowing around your toes again. Plus, they are faster than boots.
  • Admired my flowering plum tree. It's still misshapen from that late snow a few years ago. Probably always will be. But lying underneath it when it's flowering, looking up to the blue sky (all in the guise of "stretching" after a run) is one of spring's sweetest pleasures.
  • Appreciated spring running. This will happen more than once. You're running along a road you've run 1,000 times before, and you're full of running happiness anyway, but suddenly you realize how beautiful it is, with the thousand shades of new green, and the flowers in the yards, and the blossoms on fruit trees. Even the dandelions add to the color. You get this burst of sheer, sweet, true joy that makes the whole world seem impossibly perfect. Bliss. (Now I can't wait to run past lilac bushes.)
  • Planted something new. I've actually only done this part way: I've bought a bunch of astilbe starts. Now I need to finish digging out the devil's flower (aka delphinium, which is a plant I babied and nurtured for years until BAM it took over every single inch of free dirt under my maple tree; I've now dug it out four times but it just keeps coming back) and the other devil's flower (penstemon, which really is magical when it blooms in August—I have the margarita variant, which is a sort of dark purple/electric pink mix, but which is choking out everything else in the planter by the porch,including my favorite iris) before I get them planted. But buying is half the fun anyway!
    IMG_2237 grecian windflowers 3x4

  • Scarfed down spring meals: anything with asparagus. Lemon cake. Blueberry lemon bread. Macaroni salad.
  05 distant
 
Stuff I still want to do: 
  • Sit on a park bench while Kaleb plays with his friends, just to feel the way the sun warms my scalp. It's so nice not to be cold all the time!
  • Hike to where the wildflowers are.
  • Get a pedicure. My toenails are looking pretty sad.
  • Practice handstands with Kaleb.
  • Make a berry cake.
  • Go to lunch with Chris to celebate our birthdays.
  • Eat breakfast outside. 
  • Get some more photos of the kids. Especially Jake!

What are your spring traditions?
04 up high

 
 

I Don't Like Bees

I mean, I like what bees do. I don't ever swat one unless it's in my house. I like that they pollinate our flowers and fruit trees and vegetable plants. I like honey. But me, face to face with a bee? They freak me out. It's the way they dart and buzz, and the way their creepy legs dangle down limply when they're flying around. How  you're supposed to be able to hold very still when one's buzzing around you, so it doesn't get you, but it's so very hard not to run away screaming and flailing your arms. The way they're supposed to be able to smell your fear and to want to sting you because of it. And of course, that ominous stinger itself.

Honestly: I'd rather have a spider on me than a bee, and I am none-too-fond of spiders either.

I think my anti-bee stance comes from the time I got stung as a kid. The hapless bee was simply hanging out in a patch of flowering clover in our grass, and I stepped on it, and it stung me, of course. It took another thirty years or so before I learned that bee venom in the foot isn't the most painful place to be jabbed. That'd probably be the eyeball, or maybe the tongue?

Still, I count it as a blessing that, despite the bees smelling my fear whenever they are near me, it took about three decades before I was stung again. The second time happened during a hike last fall. Kendell, Jake, our friend James, and I were coming back down the path after reaching Squaw Peak. (You can see a layout about that hike here; just scroll down a bit.) Kendell was farther ahead on the trail, and then Jake, James, and me in the back. Someone's pack must have bumped against a bee hive because almost simultaneously both Jake and James were bellowing and flailing their arms and swatting at themselves, and as I watched and tried to figure out what the heck was going on, another bee got me, right in the neck. (Cue shocked entire-body flailing and a thoroughly embarrassing wail, all of it completely uncontrollable. I'm glad there are no hidden video cameras in nature.) I think mountain bees are more viscious than suburban bees because I had an enormous welt for two weeks after.

Today, I got to mow the lawn. I say "got to" because these days, it's become a privilege. I love mowing the lawn, but I've also got two adolescent boys who need to learn to work. Today, I insisted it was my turn. It was a great day for mowing the lawn—beautiful and warm after a week of rain. I put my headphones on and sang along to my music and mowed away, happy as anything. Until, that is, a bee flew up the leg of my running capris and stung me. Cue shocked entire-body flailing and a thoroughly embarrassing wail, luckily drowned out by the hum of the mower. Because, yeah: I totally kept mowing while flailing. Only—not so straight. Well, straight into my gorgeous purple iris, which have just blossomed. Hadjust blossomed. Now three of them are decimated by the lawn mower and my spazzy lack of control.

I just don't get the bee. The suicidal bee. I might have brushed its flower while I passed it with the mower. Perhaps the mower sound sent it into a frenzy of anguish. Maybe it was just an easily-annoyed individual. Not that I can't relate to that. But what did it accomplish besides killing itself in stinging me? Other than a red welt and some iris that look like a machete went a little haywire around them? Wouldn't it have been better to endure the drone of the mower and the swaying of the flower, as opposed to the other outcome which is, you know, death?

Bees. Not only do I not like them, I don't understand them.


I Think I am Ready for Spring

Yesterday at work, I got myself all befuddled. One of my responsibilities is to keep our book group sets organized and scheduled and available for the patrons who've reserved them, and part of that is updating the calendar every week. I could NOT figure out why the dates weren't lining up. I spent, literally, an HOUR shifting stuff around in my spreadsheet.

It wouldn't work until I realized: DOH! It wasn't February 28. It wasn't even a Monday. It was Tuesday, February 22.

It's the truth. I tried to delete an entire week of February.

Then, this morning, I let Jake sleep in late because he had an orthodontist appointment. This morning. You know: Thursday, February 24.

Since it was too hard to delete an entire week, this time I just went for deleting a day.

Still didn't work, of course.

Last week, I spent twenty minutes just sitting on my front porch. It was nearly fifty degrees, and three tiny purple snow crocuses had bloomed. I needed that: sitting in the presence of sunshine, warmth, and flowers.

Later that day a storm blew in, with snow and wind so ferocious I feared for my trees.

I have to keep reminding myself: it's February. It's still winter. My brain doesn't want to remember that fact because my body is so ready for spring. Ready for running outside again. Ready to mow the lawn. Ready for spring hikes, kept steep but short to avoid the inevitable mud higher up. Ready to kneel, a supplicant, before growing things.

Come, spring! I am ready for you!


Transitions

Last night I fell asleep to the luxurious sound of falling rain; this morning, before my alarm went off, a stillness woke me. I walked to the back door to check on the weather and watched, astonished and dismayed, the storm transition: rain to snow.

All morning, the wet snow fell. It canceled field trips (Nathan’s) and service projects (Jake’s). It mounded into soft spheres on the snowball bush down the street. It made my plum tree droop; it made my stomach ache. Usually the sight of snow brings a sense of peace to me; after Utah’s long drought, snow in February or November lightens my global-warming anxieties. Snow at the end of May—snow on my iris and bleeding hearts and columbine—only fuels them.

When I rounded the corner to our house, after attending Nathan’s award ceremony at school, the snow surprised me again. Not only was my plum tree drooping (I’d expected that), but my sycamore trees were bent, with one branch nearly touching my driveway. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to pull into the garage, so I rolled down the window to get a better look, and just then a snap filled up my heart.

Despite all the cold, it was almost a warm sound, evocative as it was of the crackle of campfire. But magnified, and sharper; a crack of splinter and bite. Then a soft patter, as of footsteps, as the snow fell around the fallen branch.

I know it’s probably silly. But I love my trees. I love them. I think of them almost as extra children—I greet them with hellos, I give them friendly pats, I am made happy in their presence. I’ve watched them grow from twigs. When they are damaged it almost feels the same as one of my kids getting hurt. (I will remember the crack of that branch as I will not forgot the crack of Nathan’s arm.) So I sat in my van and cried, and then I got out to investigate. Just as I closed the van door, another crack, another furious flutter of snow, but this time on the other side of my yard—my other sycamore, the one that was only as tall as Kendell when we planted it 13 years ago. Then, just a few seconds later, there was another snap.

The fact that one of those branches could have very easily hit Kaleb or me made me hustle him quickly into the house, and then a day of texture and pattern passed, green leaves frosted thick with snow, green leaves flying free of it. My neighbors came to help me; we braved the under atmosphere of trees reformed as umbrellas to flick and push and brush the snow away. The limbs, lightened, spring back into the air and then there is the texture of green leaves against the grey sky as the snow showers down.

Sycamore snow

Later, different sorts of patterns: dappled leaves against clean blue sky. The opening and closing of the saffron beaks of the trees’ two baby robins, their twiggy nest still firm in an apex of branches. The upclose geometry of bark more than halfway up the tree while I struggled to saw down a broken branch, praying my feet wouldn’t slip and that my arms were strong enough to hold me. The jumble of sycamore and plum leaves the same color as a bowl of red and green grapes; a salad made of snow, leaves, and sawdust, tossed on the ground. The slurry the street became and then the widening arcs of dry pavement.

In the end, we filled the back of the truck to its fullest with fallen limbs. I learned that climbing trees is a perfect upper-body workout (both muscles and heart) and the perspective of my neighborhood seen from twenty feet up in my tree. I stared at the ugly gash in the middle of my tree, a scar that might never heal. I worried that we might have to take the entire thing down—worry still. I grieved again for all the destruction.