Monday, February 18, 2008

Looking for signs of life...

I had a terrible time with winter this year. I don't know why. I brought some things in (to the extent that the living room began to look like the inside of a crowded, jumbled arboretum--a riot of leggy tropical refugees). But I still felt a deep loss, a low rumbling sorrow for the darkness and the bitter cold that was moving in, killing off the colors of late summer.

And since I believed that the back yard was the place I felt most myself, most at home on the planet, I couldn't help noticing my awkward but determined withdrawal into the shell of the house.

When a warm day wafted in last weekend, I nudged myself out. To touch things. To water. To sit with the Marigold skeletons and Echinacea bones. What a healing experience that was... to discover so many things stirring. Hearty, clever plants I had even forgotten in my quick, desultory inventory of what might have survived...



My Ex and I thought the upside-down terra cotta Armadillo planter was quirky and appealing. We bought it at a dumpy roadside shop full of odd but cheap Mexican imports. I planted something in it that wasn't very happy; it struggled. When I moved out, I took it with me. But only after it had been abandoned for a couple of months with my Ex, who was not a plant person. The little planter was dry dirt by the time I went back for it.

At some point, Gloria and I found some low-crawling, diminutive plants in one of our romantic wanderings at a local nursery and I planted those. They nestled on the gravel under my landlady's sprawling butterfly bushes, and began to spread out happily. Planter and plants have been thriving ever since. I've come to think of the clay rodent as my household goddess. Gloria refers to her as 'the roadkill.' Ahhh. Love.




I got down on my hands and knees. And sure enough, there they were. New spears of chive. Did they come from seed? Did the old plants overwinter? Am I looking at new growth from old roots?

I have an urge to "neaten." To pull away the old dead stalks. But I fight it. "Leave them alone! The youngsters need the protection," I tell myself sternly. I have this obscure but strong conviction that temperatures below 32 settling on leaves will damage them. As if the cold were the hand of death poised over them? But, there is something about covering things with a thin, breathable layer of fabric that protects them--a blanket. Although I do not believe they generate heat, or at least very very little. Except that I have observed the snow melting away from the bottoms of trees in a ring, moving slowly away from the trunks. What causes that?

Questions, questions, questions. And yet here, you see the proof: here they are. Tiny fragrant green straws! Alive!! Hardy. Tucked under the ratty snapdragons. How old are they? How tall are they? How much do they grow in a day? In a week? How many plants lived? (Or germinated?) How many died? I grew them from seed, and have tended them carefully (at least spring/summer/ fall). They are a yawning, stretching thatch of miracles. They are a cubic foot of unanswered questions. They are spindly, defiant, green blessings.


There is an enormous elm that leans over the property line from my neighbor's house to the east. I respect and fear it (one of those branches could easily take out a large chunk of the roof). And it provides shade. Serves as a giant bird perch and cat scratching post. I wish I knew how to find out simple things like, roughly how old it is, how tall, what variety (and where it came from because it sure as heck isn't from around here). I want to know how much water it needs. And roughly how many leaves and seeds it throws out each spring. What kinds of disease and insect parasites it is battling. I wonder if anyone in the neighborhood knows how it got there. Roughly how long does its kind live?

So.

I am largely ignorant about my neighbor the elm.

And ambivalent about it. (Ask me when I'm raking or sweeping leaves. Or when I've plucked my 300th elm seedling out of my tiny patch of would-be grass.

But when I sat on the back stoop last Sunday, ruminating, and glanced up, I did a double-take. The bud sheaths seemed larger than I remembered. I looked more carefully. They were now the size of peas, albeit brown ones. Sans pods. Naked. In mid-air. I felt a surge of excitement. And remembering a March snow three winters ago, I had a queasy flash of fear. Realizing at the same moment, that I don't know what effect that would have either. Kill off the new leaves? And what is driving the tree--sun? or temperature? Who would I ask? What subject heading would I search under?

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