It was one of those mornings when you’re just glad to be alive: cool and fragrant, birds singing, flicker pecking, doves waking up, owl calling goodnight. With the promise of way too much heat, the last two days I have left my chair in the living room corner early after my 5:00 (or so) bed-leaving, staying only long enough for coffee.
Yesterday I took the second cup of coffee to the barn door in the just-risen sun. I haven’t done that for a long time. Of course then I noticed the blackberry vines still cruising into the barn, and the bramble around my sitting log, and the trail on each side of the barn I still haven’t cleaned out.
I tossed out the rest of my now-cooled coffee—the second cup is never as good anyway—and went down to the mailbox in the garden to get my leather gloves. I pulled the native blackberry vines out from in and around the barn, my mother would be appalled, and cleared enough of one trail at least enough to walk through, and the other one more thoroughly. Not done yet, there is still the pile to haul off, but I’m checking it off my list.
Off course, by then, the sun was shining on the house gardens and I had to do the planned activity in the sun after all. Also not finished. Need to get the St. John’s wort beaten back. Maybe after it sheds its sunny little personal fireworks display that are just beginning to pop.
Today, up early again, I did not ignore the voice telling me I would be so happy if I cleaned the Airbnb suite for tonight’s guests before I went out to work. I should have ignored it. The target was the garden my sister created when she moved back to the homestead sixteen years ago. By the time I got out there it was already too hot for pulling run-rapant thyme, euphorbia, and creeping Jenny; and wandering sweet peas and more blackberry vines that will take over the house if not beaten back. I persevered and reached my goal of cleaning out and mulching half of it.
Rebecca and I have each had our gardens to create, while letting our mother be in charge of her pet area. My garden, dubbed “the garden where nothing will grow,” because that’s what my mother said would happen if I wasted my money trying, is looking good. It could have used a few more plants from this year’s Master Gardeners’ sale. Next year.
Now I’m having to care for hers too and she would not, I think, be happy with what I have done—or, in truth, not done. I tried, finally, on Sunday, to get it under control after ignoring it all spring—pulling out all the ^@#* lemon balm and buttercups I could get my hands on, and of course, the blackberries—but quickly discovered I can’t fix it this year. It needs a professional, and a make-over. Maybe I’ll just let it go rogue.
As I finished for today, I had one of those moments while hauling the wheelbarrow full of detritus to the dumping ground: my mother is gone. Forever gone. What about the questions I hadn’t asked? The ones I don’t know yet I wanted to ask? She’s gone—two months on Thursday. My father is gone—23 years on Thursday. I can’t ever ask them anything. Never ever again. The answers died with them.
It’s inconceivable to me.
I can only guess, and watch for clues on this property they poured their heart and soul into for half a century. It will also ask the questions.
One of the questions I did ask my mother, just a few weeks before she left, was if my father did all this work himself, even as his body began to betray him. “Yes,” she said.
That is also inconceivable to me.
Tomorrow I’m taking the day off from work to celebrate my birthday on a hike in the Gifford Pinchot NF. A short one, with minimal elevation gain (Flutterby will do the bulk of it). My body is tired.
And now the sun is setting on my favorite garden and I’m heading toward my last sleep before my 66th anniversary.
The sun has set on my mother too, and some moments I am overcome with, not grief exactly, but disbelief. And nostalgia. Nostalgia for the halcyon days of my childhood, heightened by caring for this place where I set down roots, pulled them up, transplanted them, and brought them back to their native beginnings.
It was on my list; has been for a year at least. Just not for today. Today was trail clean out day. But all of sudden, there it was, calling to be done. I dropped my sickle and loppers and got the ladder and the wire cutter.
We didn’t have a television until I was in junior high. Well, for a while in fourth grade we had my grandmother’s black and white, I don’t know why. Then we got our own TV when I was in seventh grade and went back to watching Lawrence Welk and the Lennon Sisters when we visited our granny.
I suppose we had rabbit ears back then. I don’t think the antennae showed up until I had left home and my parents went high tech. It was mounted on a tower at the highest place on the property, some distance from the house, in what was then the edge of the horse pasture. Now it’s a grove of trees and there is a satellite dish below the house, but mostly I watch Netflix.
Pieces of the aluminum antennae blew down over the years, bits every winter I suppose. I collected them a couple years ago, from where they’d lain dormant in the underbrush, spray painted them, and put them in the garden. They are practically buried now because I haven’t cleaned out the bed this year. Yeah, it’s on my list too. The sweet peas are in takeover mode.
When I had 40 dead trees cut in the grove that used to be a pasture a few years back, I had the woodsmen take down the precipitously leaning tower too. But the cable remained tacked, disconnected and useless, onto the side of house, stretched across the yard, up over the trail to the meadow, threaded through trees, tacked high on a pole midway through (it’s still tacked to the pole; I didn’t want to drag the ladder up there). Yards more lay on the ground after the antennae was removed.
Today I hauled out the ladder, leaned it up, and cut ‘er down. Another vestige of my past, gone. How is it that the removal of such a slender thread seems to have opened up the sky?
Meanwhile, the rhodies continue their best of show performance. I cleaned out the gravel path by the front door—another task not on the list—after deciding not to prune the ancient rhododendron overgrowth, the blooms are too pretty and still coming. I hope they last until my mother’s service in two weeks.
The bathroom floor got redone last week—it’s beautiful—and the 1960 chrome towel rods have been replaced with polished nickel. Best of all, when I took out the horrid towel tree by the tub in preparation for the work, I realized I didn’t have to put it back! Now there’s a nice nickel rod in its place.
And this week the sagging corner of the deck got a new beam and an additional post, replacing the rotten beam. I can have a dance party on the deck now. And have added painting to my to do list.
I’m following in my mother’s footsteps, getting stuff done; but only one path got cleared today, the one that goes through the woods that didn’t used to be woods. Only one of my mother’s beloved wild tiger lilies lost its life in the process. I’m mourning that one though.
I did finish up the service guide for my mother’s memorial service, and cut a few words from my eulogy. So there’s that. As my sisters and I plan for the last hurrah, life goes on here on the hill. This blog post wasn’t on my list either.
How to tell a weed from a not weed: If the deer won’t eat it, it’s a weed (some exceptions); if the deer have eaten it, it’s a not weed (no exceptions). If the deer have eaten it, it might as well be a weed now.
Some things deer don’t eat:
Buttercups. Oh you with your cheery little faces. And roots cemented in place. You are well built up, but can’t you just stay in one place? That’s not in the garden? Or the lawn?
Forget-me-nots. How could anyone forget you? You don’t give us a chance! Plowing through the garden, staging your own little coup d’etat, obliterating everything in your path. Except the buttercups.
Lemon verbena. Yes, you smell good. But really? Grow where you’re planted, and stay out of the shasta daisies. And the azaleas. And the rudbeckia bed. And the rhododendrons. And the ferns. And the…
I decided the lupine was nicer than a photo of the one and a half hostas
the oh-so-cute deer munched off. 😡 The lupine is like the fabled passion flower in my Raleigh garden: prolific and invasive. Going to have to monitor closely, or it will take over my garden. On the other hand, someday when I am gone, there could be a meadow full of lupine. It makes me kind of happy to think about.