I don't know a great deal about flowers. But for the past many months I've been immersed in them both within my writing life and personally.
My brother and his wife sent me a gorgeous bouquet of flowers for my birthday that included stargazer lilies with that striking magenta stripe. They were clustered within roses and tulips and carnations. He'd specifically asked for the lilies and I was struck with yet another side of my brother I hadn't known about: his deep love of beauty and the plants that give that gift. He said he hadn't been able to send me fresh flowers easily while we lived on the ranch 50 miles from the nearest florist so he usually sent plants: hibiscus, shamrocks, any number of wonderful plants. I'd post a photo of what arrived but it loads up sideways and I lack the skills to turn it around! They're still blooming as he also wanted lilies that hadn't yet bloomed. He was very specific that brother of mine.
In addition, I've been writing about a woman who was passionate about flowers, especially lilacs. And living with her these past months, coming to know her family, encountering descendants who have graciously answered my questions, and reading books on gardening, have made me more conscious of the gifts a garden gives.
I'm also discovering what is in my yard having moved here in November and not really seeing before all the treasures that have been covered by snow. I know there is a rhododendron right outside my office window. At the ranch it gets too hot -- sometimes 120 degrees -- for such beauties to survive. On the other hand, last week while we were gone, temperatures reached minus 12 degrees here and there was no one to cover the rhodies. I can see the buds on this plant. The leaves look a little wilted, don't they? Or is this normal? Do you think it will survive?
Beyond, to the right and reflected in my office window, is an apple tree. The main character of my book (not coming out until April of 2012 with title still pending) grafted one kind of apple onto another hoping for a crisper, easier to peel apple and she got it! I've been imagining what those trees must have looked like with slightly different blossoms on different branches based on minute differences that she bred for.
Through the winter our dog, Bo, picked up pieces of driftwood used for landscaping that outlined boundaries of various plantings placed there by the previous owners. Bo had other ideas. We'll be repositioning them once all the snow as melted and we find them but I suspect they will mark different boundaries from how it was laid out before.
I think I'll take a tour with a master gardener because I want to know what's here, what plants have found a home near ours and by doing so have made this dwelling unique, warm, welcoming. I want to know how to care for them. I find myself talking to the hibiscus in the guest room, urging it to bloom again after three years. do the outdoor plants need talking to, too?
I'm discovering there are lessons as I read of gardeners and their gardens. "Put stakes beside plants before it looks like they'll need it." "Gardens are good for procrastinators." (I'll read more about that in Sprouts and Saplings: Gardening with a Difference by Monica Moran Brandies.) Brain research with traumatized children tells us that gardening is a way for children to heal themselves, putting their hands into soil, discovering the silence in growing. Gardening helps children -- and I suspect adults -- how to remember themselves back into health, to that time before life turned on them and they found themselves bereft, bouncing around like a tumbleweed.
A tumbleweed blows across the labyrinth as I write this, butts up against a juniper then bounces its way around to find its next respite.
I want to put my hands in dirt but with trepidation since I don't really recognize a weed from a flower.
Then I'm reminded of a piece my friend Susan Tweit wrote in Seasons in the Desert, a Naturalists notebook about weeds. She says "When I look at tumbleweeds, I think not of botany or land management, but of the word 'weed' and what it means: something in the way, unwanted, not native. I am reminded of my own tumbleweed existence, bouncing around the continent from Illinois to Wyoming...and now snagged on a barbwire fence in New Mexico. Like tumbleweed, I am not a native of this desert landscape. Does that mean that I am a weed?"
I'm not native of this landscape either having grown up in the rolling hills of western Wisconsin. Does that make me a weed? I don't think so. Susan goes on to write "I think, too, of the giant steel fence that we are erecting along La Frontera, the border between the United States and Mexico, to keep 'illegal aliens' out -- people whose ancestors inhabited these landscapes when mine were building longboats in Norway. Who is the 'alien' here?"
Susan ends her piece by noting that when she sees a tumbleweed "bounding across desert on the spring winds, I am reminded that life is by no mans simple, that boundaries are never as clear as the lines drawn on a map, and that there are lessons to be learned from watching weeds."
Her words take me to that Psalm that misted over my Kinship and Courage Series: "The Lord knows my lot. He makes my boundaries fall on pleasant places.' Psalm 16:5-6.
A tumbleweed I may be, but I am also given boundaries and I will find respite in them. I'm not a weed and neither are any of you. We have in common that there are lessons to be learned from watching weeds and from watching gardens.
I only hope that rhododendron survives. Let me know what you think? If it does, I will take it as a sign that despite the extremes of weather, hardiness prevails and beauty will reign. Maybe it'll be ok if we all let a few weeds survive.
One last comment before I leave you: A Flickering Light is a finalist for the Oregon Book Awards. I'm delighted since it's the story of my grandmother as a photographer in Minnesota. The Literary Arts of Oregon instituted a new award this year, too, called Reader's Choice. You can all vote, once a day until April 18, for your favorite finalist and I hope you'll look for my title, A Flickering Light Here's the link and I send my gratitude! It's also a great place to discover a reading list for the year!
Thanks for being there. Warmly, Jane