What Else Would I Do on a Friday Afternoon in Summer but Plant Flowers?
Sunday, June 18, 2017
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.”
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).
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?)
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.
(I can't wait until the petunias start filling in and spreading out; this flower bed is going to be luscious with them!)