Sunday, April 24, 2011


This is undoubtedly the first Easter in my life that I will not spend in a church of walls. I thought it would feel uncomfortable, empty, unfamiliar. But I feel set free. Free to meet the One Who is More in ways more creative and meaningful to me. As my dear friend so eloquently says, "Resurrection isn't only about dead Jesus." Even though sermons may try to make us see the connection between dead Jesus and our own resurrections, I think I need to let go of the attachment to The Resurrection to see it. Of course since I work at a church, and created three bulletins for Holy Week and read about Jesus in the Garden at the Maundy Thursday service, it's been a little hard to get away from dead Jesus. But today I am letting it go and looking for a different relationship with resurrection.

My childhood Easters were what all childhood Easters are: bunnies, colored eggs, and a new outfit for church. In my youngest years the new outfit may have included a straw hat and patent leather Mary Janes. Later there were corsages from my daddy to his "four fabulous females." One memorable outfit in my middle childhood years was a two-piece sailor-type affair made of bonded knit. (Whoever thought that fabric was a good idea?) And there was the pink mohair sweater. I was a goddess. I bought a new ensemble a couple weeks ago. I'm calling it my resurrection outfit; since Easter implies church. And, did I mention, I'm not going.

Today is daughter Emma's birthday. Her birth was due on Easter Sunday, but she was four days late. According to a Google search, 2011 is the first of only two times between 1875 and 2124 that her birthday will fall on Easter. (The next time she will be 101.) That was a happy Easter, anticipating her birth. Happy Birthday, Emma. Another was the Easter Sunday my family moved from Starkville, Mississippi. After church. Now that was resurrection.

Unlike birth, re-birth implies a prior death. We all experience mini-deaths on a regular basis. Hopefully we don't stay dead, but sometimes resurrection takes longer than other times. Relationship death may be the hardest to come back from. Just when we think we are there, we have to die again. But each time we work through it, we come back a little bit more alive; a little bit more ourselves. In the garden yesterday I finally cut out the garbage shrub that has been the huge gardenia's dance partner for, no doubt, decades. They were co-existing, and had even grown to look a bit alike; but the trash shrub grew faster and I had to keep trimming it back to size. The gardenia bloomed, but wasn't reaching her full potential because she gave some of her power to her partner. It was time for it to go. Its absence leaves a hole in the gardenia, but eventually she will fill it with more of herself. And I didn't get all the shrub, so as not to leave too big a hole all at once. (I am not even going to fill out that metaphor; I'm sure, anyone who has ever experienced death of a relationship knows exactly what it is.) Pruning is necessary in the garden, and in life. Emotions, expectations, disappointment, attachments to what was and what we thought would be, become overgrown to the point of blocking the way for space to grow something new.

Yesterday my too-young-to-be-a-great-grandmother neighbor complimented me on my patio. She says she thinks I can do just about anything. Then she amends it to she thinks women can do just about anything they set their sights on. I say I agree, and that too often we give our power away when there is a man about. (I don't say it, but there are women we give our power to as well.) She says "And they are happy to take it." The secret is not to avoid relationship, but to hang on to our power.

I have been attached to my garden coming into the fullness of its potential. Some sort of wildlife is attached to breakfast in my garden. I have declared war on bunnies at Easter. Now a friend suggests a deer. I am not convinced a deer is negotiating the street, but my friend is's a lot of munching for rabbits, and when the peony provided the meal the other night, I admit to having to look at taller possibilities than the Easter Bunny. I am relating to my mother's ongoing war with deer. Over the years her garden has been more a shrine to deer repellent techniques than to anything else. I may have to learn to go of that attachment to what I want. But not just yet.

Just like the biblical women didn't expect an empty tomb and a re-born Jesus, there are things (besides four-legged diners) in my garden that I didn't expect. The peony I rescued from English ivy a couple years ago has many buds on it for the first time. (Though not as many as it had two days ago--see above.) I planted two alum bulbs last fall and forgot about them. When something came up with what looked more like an after-blossom seed pod than a bud, I couldn't figure out what it was and how I missed the bloom. Until it started to crack open, and then I knew. By the end of this day of resurrection I expect it will be fully open. I thought the sixth rose I planted was a dud; but it is just a bit slower than the others. All in its own time. Things that look like they won’t be coming back, have a way of showing up when you least expect it.

After months of dreading my office change, I have been occupying new space for the past week. Space with a window. Light. Returns to my basement office feel like revisiting my personal Auschwitz. How did I bear for all these years? Not very well, actually; but there was the knowledge that it was mine, and it was familiar if not beloved. New and unknown places are hard to anticipate. But change is often the opening resurrection needs. And when we jump into the crack, we open ourselves to possibilities.

"And time remembered is grief forgotten/And frosts are slain and flowers begotten/
And in green underwood and cover/
Blossom by blossom the spring begins." --Swinburne

If you're looking for me, I'm in the garden.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Garden Invaders

On my Thursday morning walking-with-coffee garden exploration I discover that something--or someone--has cleanly bitten--or snipped--the blooms off nine of my eleven red and pink tulips. I am both mystified and angry. In an early morning dream, two small boys were in my yard threatening plant terror; so my mind turns first toward two-legged invasion of the curbside blooms. But when I discover the ends of the stalks shooting up from a coral bell in the side yard has met the same fate, it seems less likely. A Google search of "what is eating my tulips?" reveals it to be a wide-spread mystery. "Everything eats tulips" proclaims one forum "expert.' My terrorist is most likely a rabbit. I imagine it raised up to its full haunches height, leaning forward, and neatly snipping off and munching the delicacy. Apparently they are discriminating, with a preference for red, mature blooms; explaining why the two newer blooms were left to see another day. I have no explanation for the coral bell tips. Invasion. Even the new fern fronds, which I love, look like stands of aliens. 

I thought that was the worst the week would hold, but on Friday I go to the orthopedist with the return of pain in my knee, injured in a fall New Year's weekend in a DIY project. I most likely have a torn meniscus. There is an MRI in my near future. The reduced mobility and restricted activity feels like an invasion to my usual good health. I am not accustomed to it, and I am resentful. Both events follow angry, hurtful, unfair words early in the week from a former friend that invade my soul garden and lay me low. "Perfect" should-have-saids invade my head in the middle of the night for the rest of the week, and I berate myself mercilessly for not doing a better job of countering her ridiculous words and accusations. Why can I not think of them in the moment? I need more that one conversation in these kind of encounters, and I won't get it this time. I know it's about her pain that has nothing to do with me; and perfect words of defense wouldn't have helped. She was intent on throwing her ashes onto me. I want to give them back, but I know she won't accept them as hers. I want to leave them on the ground, then. But they won't let go of me. Like the ash from the eruption of Mt. St. Helens three decades ago that left ash that is still buried in the bark of trees at my childhood home, I suppose this pain will always be with me. But as bark covers the mountain ash, in time I will grow scar tissue over this invasion.

And then, the tornado trumps the other events of the week.

Yesterday afternoon the sky grew black. As I track the storm with the news crew on TV, I am texting with a friend who is with her dog in the bathroom. I report the storm track to her as I hear it, "it's heading your way." She reports the power going out. "Stay put," I tell her; "it's closeby, it will soon be over." The TV station, between her house and mine, reports that their non-essential personnel have been told to head for low-level, interior rooms. I decide it's time for me to do likewise. The cat and I hang out in the bathroom as the lights flicker, go out, come back on, and repeat. It sounds like it's hailing and the wind howls. I  huddled through Hurricane Fran; and through the Columbus Day storm in my Washington state childhood. This is quicker. The invasion passes. The clouds clear, the sun comes out; and I go out, too.

A bird nest, hopefully it was not in use, is in my front yard. The street is covered with pine tree debris. There is no other sign of what just happened. But a neighbor calls and tells me trees are down and power is out in the next neighborhood. I grab my camera and go for a walk. There is some damage on a couple blocks of one street. A tree branch here, a dangling power line there. Not too bad. I return via the cemetery. I enter through the pedestrian gate and stare into the roots of a huge upended tree. In the confederate corner tree tops are broken, bark is peeled back like a banana, more upended trees. Looking up the hill, I see the clear swath of destruction. I walk up along the path of invasion. Another gargantuan tree down that at first I think is the one I have taken photos up in each season--the one that graces the graves of the Moore family, with its patriarch, Bartholomew, "lawyer and statesman." I realized last week that I didn't have a spring photo, so I think since I am here I will go get a picture for my collection.

It is only a moment before I realize it, too, is down. I approach in tears; I stand and sob. Bartholomew is still standing, but his tree is gone and has taken a dogwood and several stones out with it. The storm continued its twisting fury on a path that took it within three blocks of my house.

Perhaps I should have saved the "Sitting Shiva" title for this post. A discriminating rabbit, an undiscriminating tornado. A dead friendship. Things I care about are gone.

I believe that who we are is the result of all our experiences and all our relation-ships. There is no perfect life or perfect garden or perfect relationship. What would it even look like? I don't know. We are learning as we go. For as long as there is life, if we pay attention, we will keep moving forward. Our gardens, our neighborhoods, things and people we love, relationships, our souls will always be subject to invasion. Things go wrong. And things go right. Winston Churchill said, "The maxim 'nothing but perfection' may be spelled 'paralysis.'" I am going to go with that.

This post was going to be about weeds. Perhaps another time. Other invaders got in the path this week.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Root Runs Through It

I get to the Cafe this morning and realize I have forgotten my cell phone. The phone is my umbilical cord to the world. Text messages from friends (a feature I unashamedly admit I am addicted to) remind me I am on someone's mind. (The fact that it rarely actually rings also reminds me that I am not regularly on anyone's mind...) We have become so rooted to the knowledge that someone we need to be in touch with is right there, that we worry when they don't respond immediately to our outreach. I'm not sure that's always a good thing; and I hope anyone who might try to reach me this morning won't worry. Well, it might be nice if they are a little concerned. What I most love about my cell phone--and texting--though, is that if something strikes me as lovely or touching or comical in any given moment and I want to share it with someone, I shoot off a text message--perhaps even a picture--to a friend I know will enjoy the light touch. And they do the same with me. And in those moments, I feel rooted and connected to a world larger than the one immediately around me. And that is a good thing.

There is a pervasive root in my yard that is the orange-yellow color of bailing twine. In some places it is spidery thin and in others it is as big around as my wrist. I don’t know for sure which plant lays claim to it, but I suspect the trailing rose that must have been beautiful on the fence in its day, but now gets no sun. When I pull the root up where I want to convert yard to garden, it often ejects to the point of the spidery network at the end, which, as it comes out of the ground, loosens the soil and provides a good planting place. When I was building the flagstone path at the side of my house--my first garden--it pulled up the sod and made preparing the ground a much easier task. Sometimes, however, I can’t remove it and I have to dig my hole in a different spot and plant around it.

I named the root Audrey, because its omnipresence has been a horror. Later in my garden projects though, I found myself feeling differently about it. The One who is More is a root that runs through my life, providing nourishment and stability, always there whether I want the relationship or not. Sometimes More blocks my way--like when a dysfunctional relationship or activity is feeling too comfortable in its familiarity and I am unable to turn away from it on my own--and makes me change course, turning in a healthier direction. Even when I don’t want to. And More sometimes clears the way for loosening my heart and opening me up to plant something new. Now, when my spade or my trowel comes upon the Audrey root, rather than swearing at it, I thank More for the reminder of the constant presence of love and care. I am never forgotten.

I finished my patio this week; and that is really what has gotten me thinking about roots. There is a root running through it that, unlike Audrey, I was concerned about cutting. I don't want to weaken the big tree that I think it is supporting. Probably it's not of a lot of importance to the tree, being one of many roots, and a relatively small one at that. But who am I to decide what is essential to someone else's survival? And so I determine that it, and a couple of other roots at the edge of the circle, will be part of the design of my patio. Like I have learned to do in my life, I don't even try to plan what it might look like. I will figure it out when I get there.

I ponder, as I lay the 400 donated, recycled, multi-colored bricks, the roots that run through my life. The one with the most girth is change. It is also the one I would have least expected. The first root that comes from a plant is called the radicle. It was my assumption that my radicle would be a life partner and that that relationship would provide the nutrients and the grounding anchor running through the entirety of my life--at least until death did us part. That root was cut off many years ago. But plants have many kinds of roots; and in a diffuse root system, the primary root is not even dominant. (Thank you Wikipedia, for that. Who knew?) I am going out on a limb here and muse that making one person (or one career or one fill-in-the-blank) dominant will weaken the relationship rather than strengthen it. My favorite kind of root (that I just this moment learned of) is the adventitious root. I love the name, sounds like adventure--which is certainly an unexpectedly dominant root in my life. Adventitious roots arise out-of-sequence from the more usual root formation of branches of a primary root, and instead originate from the stem, branches, leaves, or old woody roots. Because I lack the usual primary root, I have grown roots from all parts of my life. Like the nurse logs in the rain forest (fallen, rotting trees from which new trees spring up), the new structures my life are dependent on the foundation provided by fallen structures. I do not discount the importance of that which has gone before.

My children, my mother, my sisters, my relationship with God-the-One-who-is-More, my heart-string connection to mountains. These are the longest roots running through my life; the ones that are as long as I am--nearly 60 years long--or at least as long as they are. I wish friends were included in that list. My living is not rooted in life-long friendships; and that is a sadness. Worship/Church--the kind contained within walls--is another anchoring root running through my life. The girth of it has kept me working around it for the past couple of years--protecting it, but not always engaging it, as I find Church in other places provides me with more nutrients. It has recently, and rather suddenly, become clear to me that it is time to stop working around it and cut it off. Writing this blog and the garden that inspires it has become the adventitious root, supporting me, feeding me, anchoring my relationship with More. Though the building will continue to be my workplace, and the people there will continue to be my friends--the church part has become a haustorial root, one that sucks the life out of me rather than providing sustenance.

And so, my patio is complete. The root runs through it. Time will tell if roots that I damaged in its creation will cause stress to the trees and plants that were counting on them for good health. Like the dogwood, whose roots I damaged planting the windows under it in a past year, bounced back after a year of compromised health; like my emotional health in the months after damaged or cut off relationships, I trust that they will survive in the long-term if not the short. They will grow new roots, or depend on other parts of their vast network to provide them with nutrients. Life will go on. We have many roots running through our lives. And a great capacity to grow more.

(Click here for a slideshow of the creation of my patio,  Patio Creation.)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sitting Shiva

Sitting Shiva. Honoring the dead. The crows sit Shiva in the cemetery, not just the requisite seven days, but on and on and on. They sit in the trees and on the gravestones. They are the keepers of those who have gone before.

This weekend is the fourth anniversary of the weekend I moved into my not-so-big-house, not knowing that I would begin the project of my life--restoring the garden and, through it, myself. It was Palm Sunday weekend. Lent, a time of sitting Shiva, in a sense. Sitting in the stillness, waiting. Looking toward the death of Christ. Did he know he would be "reborn"? Or only that he would die? I had sat Shiva for two years following the death of a second relationship I thought would be forever. The purchase of this home was the beginning of new life. Perhaps all things have to die--or at least stop moving--before they can be born into new life.

Since February I have been watching a webcam trained on an eagle aerie, 80 feet up, in the top of a tree, in Decorah, Iowa. ( The eagle couple take turns sitting on the three eggs. They sit and they sit and they sit. They sit with the patience of sitting Shiva; but they are waiting for birth. (I take the liberty of re-appropriating sitting Shiva to mean patient and still.) Every so often the protector of the eggs stands up and turns them, to make sure they are warming on all sides. She settles herself back over them and wiggles and wiggles her body until she feels comfortable on the eggs. Then she pulls up the covers--tugging at the nest, pulling the bits toward her body to protect the eggs from draft. The first eaglet hatched yesterday. It took several hours for it to peck its way out of the egg, with no help from its parents. Like human babies it needs the journey to be strong enough to survive out of the egg-womb. There is now a dead rabbit in the nest (not all of nature is lovely) that the eagles feed the baby--mouth-to-mouth.

You have to watch the nest for a long time to see anything happening; and yet, like in the garden, much is happening that can't be seen. We sit Shiva through Lent, knowing it is happening, but not yet able to see. Happening in the garden and in our lives. Each time I embark on something new, like the eagles rearranging the eggs, it takes a lot of wiggling to get comfortable again. A lot of pulling the covers back up to keep the draft out of the holes made by what is lost. And I trust the One Who is More will feed me mouth-to-mouth when necessary; and let me struggle on my own for the strength I will need, when that is necessary. But always close by keeping me warm.

Death and rebirth continue to happen at work. Change. Holes. It is a difficult week. I learn that Mercury (the planet) is in retrograde. I will take that as explanation. It happens three or four times a year, when Mercury slows down; and, in a optical illusion, appears to stop and move backward (retrograde). It is a time, astrologically-speaking, when things tend to go haywire; when big decisions should not be made. Mercury retrograde gives us time to catch up with ourselves, and to look back. Something from the past might return in a different form--people, ideas, or buried insights that need to surface for us to move forward. It can be a contemplative time, a chance to go over old ground again, to claim what you missed the first time. Lent.

Life continues in the garden. Yesterday I discover asters! I had forgotten that I planted the bulbs last fall. The first tulip is opening. The new roses continue to grow leaves; and the very old, rescued rose bush is as healthy as it has ever been. I look around and realize that what I began four years ago is maturing. The tiny perennials I planted through the seasons look like they have always occupied their space in the garden. The Japanese maple I rescued from beneath the gardenia, towers above it now. Freed to become its own "person." And I have become my own person. I have dug in the dirt these four years; I have planted; I have watered the new life with my tears; I have pulled out that which was root-bound, no longer able to thrive. I have ripped up that which was choking what wanted to be reborn and made space for something new. I have planted seeds and forgotten about them; only to discover them flowering much later. And some of what I planted was not in the right place. I have found more sun for some and let others go.

My dear friend of more years than any other; sister blogger; co-owner with me of feelings, experiences, and moods, wondered in her blog recently if she continues to run from or toward in her nomadic life. In my humble opinion, we are running toward. We leave one place because something ends (whether it be job, location, relationship, or a sense of contentment), moving us forward, always forward, to the next thing. And in between our movements, we sit Shiva. Waiting, re-examining. But like the garden and the eagles, much is happening while we appear to be waiting. The garden and the egg pips are maturing. We are learning to trust the process--it cannot be rushed. I have watched co-workers leave the safety of the nest for something else, without knowing what the something is. But they start it, they lay the egg or plant the bulb, and then sit Shiva. Sitting in the stillness. Waiting, re-examining. "Her running stopped. Her trusting began. And slowly the doors creaked open.”
(Terri St. Cloud) Trust the process, and exactly what needs to happen will happen.