What a gift is this thing called life

"Every gardener knows that under the cloak of winter lies a miracle...a seed waiting to sprout, a bulb opening to the light, a bud straining to unfurl. And the anticipation nurtures our dream." Barbara Winkler
Through the trinity of living room windows I view the December yard, austere and skeletal, a middle-aged landscape with bulging foliage, and overgrown shrubs. I'm sympathetic because I feel much the same. The cherry tree is half dead, behind the master sits an old bench I painted when the kids were young, now decomposing under the weight of an overgrown geranium. The playscape we set up twenty years ago is not structurally sound. My majestic magnolia needs a nose trim. An aggressive ivy has taken over the children's digging hole and the stark remains of a robust wisteria clings to the arbor like a jealous lover. When did this all happen?


We bought the house in 1990, during a severe drought, the back yard was a dirt lot, except for the family tree. As the rains returned to the valley we started planting, digging holes along the back fence to bury eight 20 gallon buckets of oleanders. We planted three crepe myrtles on the east side for shade, tall shrubs along the west fence for privacy, a few camellias for color, seeded the lawn, and eventually my husband's DNA compelled him to plant fruit trees. When our fourth child was born we added a room off the back of the house which formed a courtyard. Larry built a gigantic arbor with his dad between the wings and over the years this has become our favorite room. Oh the memories...
"Gardener’s , like everyone else, live second by second and minute by minute. What we see at one particular moment is then and there before us. But there is a second way of seeing. Seeing with the eye of memory, not the eye of our anatomy, calls up days and seasons past and years gone by." Allen Lacy, The Gardener’s Eye, 1992  
I said to Larry, "Let's rebuild the play structure for Audrey, replace the old wood, fix the border, order new tanbark. I like the rustic look but it's totally unsafe."

He says, "I'm on it." (At least that's how I remember the conversation) 

He adds, "a few of the bushes need trimming."

"Honey, remember it's a trim, don't go crazy like you did with your last haircut, use a little restraint."

"What's wrong with my haircut?"

There are no words to describe his last cut, so I don't respond. He practically shaved his head, he keeps insisting she used a six, but I have no idea what that means. She totally butchered him and he loves it? I should have been on high alert, but as usual, I was oblivious to the flagrant signs.

The first thing he did was take apart the old play structure in order to assess the damage but he quickly realized it was not repairable. I passed by the trinity of windows in the early afternoon and the entire play structure was gone, like Gone Girl, completely gone, no trace. I go storming outside, "What the hell happened to the swing set?"



"I had to take it down, it's totally rotten, no way to repair all the damaged parts, I took it to the dump." (I felt like a jilted lover, I didn't get to say good-bye, and now I'll never have closure) Larry is unfazed. 

"We'll buy a new one."

"It won't be the same."

"It will be better." (That kind of statement makes middle-aged women crazy)

He purchases a new structure online, "Next weekend I'll trim." 

I never should have left the premises, but my mom needed a ride to Office Max, so I backed out of the garage, as Larry headed out back with the clippers. A few hours later I tried to pull into the driveway but it was impassable due to a mounting pile of discarded oleander limbs. (trigger warning, some of these images are disturbing)

I elevate my voice to stress my point, "What the hell did you do to the oleanders?" (The ones I planted with my own two hands)

He backs up a few steps, "I went on line and learned that oleanders get leggy if you don't cut them back. In a couple of years they'll be much fuller. You'll see."

"What I see is stubs. Ugly, bare, stubs. This is ridiculous. You butchered my oleanders, discarded the playscape, what's next."

"I'm taking out the cheery and apple trees next." (He's become an assassin)

"What? Why? Did you bump your head?"

He rubs a hand over his forehead like my very presence is giving him a headache. He talks slowly like I'm a child, "The cherry is half dead, no one eats the apples, they rot all over the ground."

I feel like Julia Lorraine Hill, the gal who moved into a 1500 year old redwood tree, to prevent the Pacific Lumber Company from cutting it down. I think it was early December when she set up housekeeping in the tree and she stayed there for two years. I'm not nearly as radical, I love a good mattress, I'll replant in the spring. At least I was given fair warning. I went out and kissed the trucks of my trees, then ordered a shitload of stuff on Amazon, I feel much better. 

As Larry disassembles the yard, I gather structures for the new play area. This is when the analogies between languishing landscapes and midlife become shockingly apparent. The kids have moved on, we have new spaces in our lives to fill, and a little restructuring of our own to pursue. I'm lucky Larry doesn't have a problem with change, unlike his wife, who hangs onto the past like a bulldog. I think it's time we base our decisions on what seems interesting instead of pedagogic, what is beautiful instead of practical, and enticing instead of affordable. Don't you?

David Brooks says, "Have you ever known anybody to turn away from anything they found compulsively engaging?" Yes, parents constantly turn away from their own interests, to support that of their children. But baby the times have changed. 
"We don't decide about life; we're captured by life." David Brooks
I found this adorable metal car at an antique shop up at the lake. It will be a perfect addition for the new play area. The body is formed from rusted pipes in the shape of a small sedan. It has two benches back to back and four wheels. I paid a bloody fortune for the structure. I'm going to paint the wheels in primary colors. One might ask why in the world do you need four wheels?
"In a way Winter is the real Spring - the time when the inner things happen, the resurgence of nature."-  Edna O'Brien 


My daughter is expecting identical twins in the spring and I'm getting ready for a whole new generation of memories in this restructured middle-aged yard. 



And now that I think about it, there might be a sports car in my future, what a gift is this thing called life.


FYI - If you give a man a clipper...he's going to need absolution, when you forgive him, he'll ask you for a beer, when he's finished he'll need a nap. 



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