Lighting a Fire for Heat Means Losing the Tree

I’ve been thinking a lot about losses lately.

Not because of a melancholy mood, but because of a class I am taking this semester:  The Philosophy of Death and Dying.   Focusing on death is not the crux of this class.  On the contrary, our professor wants us to see this as a life course and an opportunity for us to learn how to live our lives honestly, lovingly, with open communication, and in such a way that when we do depart, the wake of regret and sorrow might be lessened.  When she told us on the first night of class that she had designed the class to not be academically challenging, I should have seen it coming.

Something about the timing of this class doesn’t sit right with me.  It is the spring semester, and instinctively I think of spring as a time of re-birth and renewal as opposed to fading and dying.  The garden starts to awaken with chives and Egyptian onions.  The crocuses seem to forget, one more time, that if they show themselves too early, they will be snowed upon, but for a few days my gardens show bright with these spunky purple bulbs, the blossoms of which remind me of a cordial glass, waiting to be filled with gentle spring showers.

This spring, however, it seems that I have been asked to return to the dark corners of my life and examine loss, how I have wasted precious time by indulging in anger, moodiness, selfishness, procrastination, and self-pity.  It feels like a patch of rough burlap has been stitched to the inside of my shirt.  It chafes, and it hurts, and the only way to rid myself of these discomforts is to find it and carefully remove it without ruining the fabric by trying to tear it out too quickly.

Our text for this course is “On Death and Dying”, by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, and it has been an enlightening read, but years and years ago, TT introduced me to “How to Survive the Loss of  Love”, and I have sobbed my way through that book more than once.  At one time we bought all the copies we could find to share with friends who were in the middle of loss and its ensuing befuddlement.  Seems to me we went through them rather quickly.

Losses can be cleverly disguised.  I think about the surprises people face when they retire from a long career, or the empty feeling that might surface once a project is completed, especially if it was a difficult one, or one that required a lot of time.  What about weight loss, even?  Even though it is a positive loss if carefully crafted and not due to illness, it is a loss.  Where’d that former person go – poof!  They are no longer with us, and a new, unfamiliar form has taken their place and assumed their name.  Buyer’s remorse?  Is that a form of grief?  Lighting a fire for heat means losing the tree.  The last bite of a delicious meal means there is no more, and the loss of that fleeting delight.  Can we talk about this?

I’d love to know what you think, because, well…I’m at a loss.

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Civic Minded Gardening?

It’s just about time to prune the butterfly bushes.

I have a friend who is a master gardener. She would probably call them Buddleia Davidii. She’s amazing. A walking, talking gardening encyclopedia.  She knows the Latin names and growth cultures for scores of different plants and shrubs.  Her gardens are diverse, fragrant, and lovely.  She is also the president of our local garden club, and she is actively involved in beautification projects around town. Her civic minded approach to her gardening skills is enhanced by the fact she does not have to be involved in raising income for her family.  And our city benefits from her ministrations.   She encouraged me for quite some time to join the garden club, but I work full time, which leaves me with few precious hours to care for my own gardens, and the mid-day meetings are quite out of reach for me.

Anyway, I call the Buddleia Davidii by their common name, butterfly bush; which are so named because they are known to attract butterflies (fancy that!). I enjoy them because of their dramatic growth every year.  In the early spring they need to be pruned back to about 18-24”, so for about 8 weeks after pruning they look like lifeless remnants of a neglected garden plot. Then, before you know it, they start to sprout leaves and grow, slowly at first, but once they hit their pace, it is easy to see almost daily changes in these bushes, so that by the time late June rolls around, those odd looking clumps of wood are nearly 8 feet tall and almost as wide, fully leafed out and starting to bud up.  They are fairly late to blossom in my neck of the woods, which makes their purple addition to the garden especially appreciated after the wild rumpus of colors and textures of early June has subsided.

My next-door neighbor used to enjoy the butterfly bushes as well, before she moved west, but for a different reason.  As it turns out my butterfly bushes attract dragonflies.  One afternoon I was out pulling weeds or complimenting my flowers on their colorful costumes, or some other important task, and she wandered over to tell me that in late afternoon dozens and dozens of dragonflies will come around and feast on the dark lavender blossoms of my bushes.  She enjoyed watching them so much, she made a date with herself to watch the dragonflies in my garden a couple of afternoons a week while enjoying a glass of iced tea.

Now don’t get me wrong, I was very pleased to learn about the dragonflies, and I am also happy that my neighbor was fortunate enough to be able to meander freely throughout her yard (and mine??) on a weekday afternoon, but deep inside, way behind the cheerful smile and the heartened response, I was jealous, hurt even.  It felt remotely like it did the day I went to pick up JT at the child care center after a long day’s work, only to learn that she had taken her first steps, and it was not my eyes, my face, and my arms she was trusting on that initial risky business called walking.  I’ll always wish that JT could have waited until after work to walk for the first time, but that night she also took her first steps with me, and we have been traveling companions and celebrating each other ever since.

And I’m OK with the dragonflies too.  It seems I had been civic minded all along, without even knowing it, just by being a gardener.