One of things I loved about having small children was watching Sesame Street. I especially loved the double meaning songs and jokes; one meaning being over small children's heads, although they were oblivious. The creators were brilliant at keeping us adult children engaged with our kids. A favorite of mine was Letter B, sung by a quartet of shaggy-haired muppets. It brings a smile to my face even now. Another song that still goes through my head frequently was the introduction to a matching game: One of These Things Just Doesn't Belong Here.
But really, are we not all immigrants in this country? I grew up in Washington State, to parents who emmigrated from Michigan and Tennessee. REI, Starbucks, and Nordstroms followed me across the country from their original place of belonging. I like this state (though I would rather be in the mountain end) and I like banana trees. We leave one home and we make another place our home. If we believe we belong, if we want to belong, then we do.
I have strayed off the map so many times over the past years that I sometimes haven't known if I even belonged in my own life: I began in the Pacific Northwest and have ended up in the Southeast. I thought my life was meant to be encased within another’s, like Russian nesting dolls. I unquestioningly followed the plan to be married to and supported by a husband until death do us part, and I ended up divorced and the sole support of myself. I never questioned my heterosexuality, but discovered myself as a lesbian after nearly 20 years of marriage. When I was 40 I went to graduate school, expecting to be a counselor, and ended up a bookkeeper. Have I lost myself? Or have I found myself? Did I not belong then, or do I not belong now? I have stopped asking the questions. I believe I have always been myself; I believe I have always belonged. I have always belonged in the moment. We are at least partially responsible for what comes next, but we can't predict it. I can't predict forever success in the garden, but I am willing to give anything I like a chance. I will enjoy the plant until its time is up, whether it's a month or a decade. I have never lived a lie. I have never failed at anything, which doesn't mean it lasted forever. I am not sorry for any of my choices, or any direction my path wound. I have no regrets. All any of us have for sure is right now.
I am sure you have been asked, perhaps by a therapist or the author of a self-help book, "Where do you want to be five years from now?" It's a favorite question of those who think they know how to help us get motivated. I have tried to answer the question, perhaps it's why I went to graduate school. The truth as I know it now, though, is in five years I want to look back and know that I lived those years, that I took risks, that I wasn't afraid--or if I was, I did it scared. Five years from now will take care of itself. These moments are the ones that matter; I will never get them back. I am not, anymore, easily discouraged from trying what I want to try: being a counselor, living alone, camping by myself, playing the violin, subscribing to Match, planting a banana tree.
I gave birth to my own children, but I am a strong believer in the beauty of adoption. I read articles and receive advice about planting native plants and drought resistant plants in the garden. In one column the author/gardener said he plants his garden and never waters all summer. That sounds plain dull to me, though it would provide more time to sit in the air conditioning and watch TV, instead of sweating outside. My garden is my family now; I take care of its needs, it depends on me, and it gives me pleasure. There is a lot of adopting and adapting going on in the garden.
Last fall, just before the last chance planting date, I planted my banana tree. I followed the advice I read and after first frost I cut it down to the ground and mulched it. (The other option was to cut it a few feet above the ground, build a heavy gauge chicken wire coop around it and fill it with mulched leaves. That sounded a bit too much like taking care of children.) In the spring I eagerly watched for emergence. Nine stalks sprouted in an area the size of a dinner plate. I didn't know if I should thin the grove or not, so I let it make its own way. "One of these kids is doing her own thing." Now it is healthy, lush, and beautiful; but not tall, at least not yet. I asked a sister gardener I met while walking in my neighborhood about her banana tree. She told me to cut it off as high as I can reach and leave it. No need to mulch in this climate, especially if it's near the house. In the spring it will sprout out of the dead stalk and have a head start on height. I love things that sprout from dead stalks. Hydrangeas do that, too. So do I after the winter hybernation.
After the risk of frost last spring, I planted a variety of seeds in my garden. When they sprouted, I found that I couldn't tell the seedlings from the weedlings. I didn't know what to do. Should I pull the ones I think are weeds? If I guess, I risk pulling up the desirable plant. I chose to watch and wait until it became clear. Just as I waited to discern the difference between flowers and weeds in the garden, I wait to see which vines of my life now will hold my heart together and which ones will squeeze the life out. It is not always clear at first. Which vine is the passion flower and which is the cat briar?
Believably, 2010 is the hottest summer on record here; yet I am enjoying being outside more than I ever have. Not working, just sitting, away from pavement and cars, in the shade of the dogwood tree that catches the breeze. Watching and listening to the birds that flock to the feeder and flit and zip through the trees. I got a backyard birds book and I am learning their names. Yesterday the fluffy young cardinals discovered the feeder and entertained me for an hour. The titmouse and chickadees, so cute, have started stopping by. I keep an eye on my plants and discern which to plant more of next year and which ones don’t want to belong (they are my Mississippi plants). Sitting in the dark under the tiki lights I listen to the cicadas and watch the dance of fireflies. I have let go of the fact that it is ridiculously hot. I have stopped complaining about that which I can't control. I have decided to belong to this moment in this place.
5 years ago