In celebration of Earth Day last week I sprinkled a little bit of attention on the small piece of earth I own. A few years ago I created myself a beautiful bed of shapes and colors out in the back yard; it was just one of my many steps to eradicate any trace of grass from my lawn. And at the time, it was the meditation I needed to stay sane during a really shitty period in my life. On Friday I faced that neglected zombiescape with a great amount of shame.
The cherry tree I rescued is thriving and heavy with now-fading bloom, but the barren, boney limbs that were too far gone to be coaxed back into production are grey and brittle, poking towards the sky. I never understood exponential multiplication until I started growing Iris. Where they once punctuated with sharp, green blades and colorful frills, they now threaten to devour the deceptively delicate looking camellia I only bought because it was on sale. Some girls are suckers for abandoned puppies or designer shoes; I can’t pass up a flowering perennial.
My red, twisty Japanese Maple that I affectionately refer to as my dragon tree, is full and lush, but slowly being choked out by the skeletal remains of the fallen army of Chinese Forget-Me-Nots that jumped their flower pots and made my border bed their battle field. They scratch my flesh and pull at my clothes when I walk too near. All of it is calling out, “Tend to me.”
I have, once upon a time, loved this garden. It wasn’t something I ever intended to complete and then maintain; my joy was in nursing, adding, moving, and gifting my plant babies. I started every February and continued until the heat chased me inside for the season. But last year was different. In February I already didn’t feel very good and I barely kept up with weeds. Had I been paying closer attention, I’d have identified the Chinese Forget-Me-Not problem sooner and my arms would not now be covered in long, thin scabs. By the end of May, I was recovering from a surgery to remove a tennis ball sized tumor, along with the ovary it was rooted to. When I was well enough to work in the garden again, my heat limit had already been exceeded. Coincidentally, that’s when I rediscovered an old flame of mine: travel.
Not that I ever forgot my love of road trips; the highway will always be the best hairdryer and my favorite therapist. But I fell in love again with air travel and taking the longest possible route between any two locations. While I was busy not keeping up with my garden, I went to Boston (regrettably, straight through). I visited New Orleans by way of Minneapolis; from Philly to Phoenix to Spokane so that I could spend a long weekend in Montana. I flew to Orlando so I could drive to Savannah and St. Augustine. And then I started on my quest for passion, flying into Nashville so I could drive to Memphis for Elvis’ birthday, and then flying into London so I could spend Easter in Rome. Even as I stooped to yank the uninvited plant life out of my garden, I was making mental preparations for my upcoming trip to Dallas and trying to decide where I’m taking the kids for summer vacation. I have, it would seem, grown myself a lovely little set of aluminum wings, and I love them. But my fingernails scratched at a different love, there in the dirt behind my house.
I successfully pulled the biggest, ugliest weeds on Friday. In this garden, neglect fruits more prolifically than my labor ever did, and I clearly have to make some choices about where my energies are going to be expended. With legs cramped from all of the stooping and squatting, I turned to herbicide as an answer to the pesky grass, clover, thistle, and lemon balm that have appointed themselves as ground cover inside my flower beds. Just as the 1.33 gallon jug of Round Up ran dry, fat, juicy rain drops splashed onto my forehead. For the next twelve hours, all of my chemicals were washed away, reminding me that there really are no short cuts. Not with roots, and not with wings.