Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hearts and Flowers

We Crabs of the Zodiac, so secretive, shy, and unwilling to open the protective shells of our homes or our souls to anyone:  it’s a miracle of god that a writer exists among the lot of us. For people who tend to just bleed passions all over everything, seem to need to, we sure can tie ourselves into knots about it. Even for this little blog, total page-hits in the low thousands, a loved one always has to talk me off a ledge every single time I post. It’s so bad, I find it difficult to unclench my fist now and reveal the simplest little thoughts that I have in my palm for today. Favorite landscaping tips I’ve learned over the years, something I know a little about  --  what could be so revealing about that?

Ask Freud, I guess. And can you spare a Valium and a hug, friend?

Well, watch me be brave.

You see here photographs taken this morning of my favorite landscaping tree and special occasion gift, the Forest Pansy Redbud. I love it for its natural shape, the manageable size that it will grow, its willingness to thrive in sun or shade, its profuse spring flowers, its hardiness, its native status in my part of the world. But most of all, I love it for the red hearts this particular cultivar delivers like a box of chocolates every year beginning about right now. A whole tree of hearts  --  how perfect is that? For this last reason, be forewarned. I may be that weirdo who shows up with a small tree as a gift for a baby or wedding shower, any occasion worthy of celebration for the length of the lifetime of a tree. “Think of this day every time you see the red hearts in spring,” my card will say.

Not shown in the photograph is the blue spruce planted in the mid-ground of the landscape (it’s too small to see in the photo, for now), and the lime yellow-green Heuchera that will be planted all around the base of the redbud. This combination of colors  --  blue, violet red, limy yellow  --  creates a gorgeous pallette against a green backdrop; I always make sure to layer these colors in my sight-line. The spruce and Heuchera are "evergreen," in that their colors remain through the winter. Heuchera is that rare, shade-loving plant, incidentally (why it goes so well under the redbud), and it's always a good rule of thumb to place light greens and yellows in the darkest parts of the garden. They seem to glow there, and pull the eye to rest on the coolest, most peaceful places in your yard.

Because I am working with acres here, and not a normal size yard, I used Colorado Blue Spruce in this case. But in the past, in smaller spaces, I've used a blue spruce I love even more, the Foxtail spruce. It only grows 12 to 15 feet tall, much more to scale for regular yards, and its unusual shape is my favorite of all the evergreen trees. This is the tree that Disney puts in a scene with baby forest animals. Or if you're a certain kind of guy, afraid of losing your essence to an image like that in the yard, think of it as the tree you want covered in songbirds drawn by the feeder you built yourself. The Foxtail does get a little scraggly around the bottom over time, so I plant Oakleaf hydrangea all the way around the base, to hide the worn part. This pairing  --  for color, texture, year-round beauty and year-round flowers (dried, in the winter)  --  is one of the best I have ever seen, in all of landscapedom. (Check for compatibility in your zone, of course, and study your garden encyclopedia for spacing.)

Painting with living color has been a lifelong comfort. I've been known to go back and visit past homes, to marvel from the street at the size of a tree I put in the ground 20 years ago, or to frown over a current owner who doesn't seem to know, for example, hydrangea can be trimmed to any size you want it to be. It's been hard for me not to return with hand-held trimmers in those cases. "Don't mind me! I'm just going to get some of these old canes out of here and I'll be out of your way!"

* * *

But back to the present, and the future. Since this blog is such a crazy mix of topics, every one a favorite for some people, and a definite "least favorite" for others, I want to offer a few insights about what I expect will come next. Several friends and I recently tacked together the craziest set of circumstances for a short story you ever heard, and I'm trying to gather the courage to write it. I also plan to post at least one more update on quitting smoking; those blogs have had some of the most hits of any of mine, and I feel a duty to any smokers who might be white-knuckling it with me, in spirit. (A quickie:  it's Day 13, and I'm still not lighting up.)

In the meantime, I am reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love at the strong suggestion of a close friend, who seemed to think the book would be particularly valuable to me at this point in my life. (She was right.) And also, that the author and I have a lot in common, in our ways of being and making our ways through the world.

Oh shit. Damn that friend  --  she is right again. Curses, because I recognize a very particular kind of "quirky" that the author and I share, and she and I are most alike when she is being most annoying. Whine fests, over-thinking, manic scrabbling for meaning, hyperbolic rants, hyperventilation, self-deprecation, and general openness to any and every emotion in this galaxy and the next. She's a veritable antenna to a Universe of feeling. I do not want to negatively impact anyone's desire to read the book, which is not high art but fabulous in its overwrought, funky way. It says so much about the female condition that it ought to be required reading for women's studies classes. I just wish I was cooler in one or two respects than the writer is. Lest this sounds like just more self-deprecation on my part, know that my husband laughed awfully hard when I read him a line or two of Gilbert's that "might" apply to me, too. He roared.

From the book:
"I said to God, 'Look, I understand that an unexamined life is not worth living, but do you think I could someday have an unexamined lunch?"

And how's this for hyperbole:  
"... I got to thinking about how much time I spend in my life crashing around like a great gasping fish, either squirming away from some uncomfortable distress or flopping hungrily toward ever more pleasure."


Out of curiosity after I’d written the opening sentence for this blog, I googled Elizabeth Gilbert’s birthday. Yep, she’s a Cancer, born July 19, 1969. So let me just say, there are many ways in which she and I are not alike. I can't fully get into her quest to "find God," for one thing, because I don't believe in any god based on a Judeo-Christian tradition. No all-powerful deity with intelligence; the closest I might accept is an inner life force, a collective consciousness. (Although Gilbert is seeking god in an Indian ashram, her Judeo-Christian influence is extremely apparent.) I believe miracles could be explained with science, if we had the tools. Even the fascinating human observation that people born at similar times bear certain very similar traits could be explained, if we had the ability to cope with an impossible number of variables. The "stars" offer a nice, completely impractical theory. So sorry, Ancients:  cause and correlation are not the same thing.

All of which is to say, when Gilbert is racing into a clump of eucalyptus trees in India to express her joy to the god she has finally found, she seems pretty silly to me. "I threw my arms around one of those trees, which was still warm from the day's heat, and I kissed it with such passion. I mean, I kissed that tree with all my heart ..." 

Well, all right, it is quite possible, that I could kiss a tree. But that's all.