Sunday, July 31, 2016

Under the weeds

Earlier this afternoon I went to work on the weed patch along the north side of my house. I live on a corner, so the three-foot-tall whatever-weeds-they-were were out there for all the neighbors to see as they walk dogs past my house or trail children on their way to the park. I take walks around my town and in observing other north sides of houses, I've learned that most people have something a bit more intentional going on in their greenspace. More to the point, this exuberance of wild greenery is what I see when I come home from work and park at the curb--an example of my failure as a homeowner. So despite the other even more exuberant patches of weeds on the south side of the house, this is what I worked on today.

Weeds didn't used to grow here. Nothing much grew here between the forsythia and the pink almond bushes. It was a dark, cold patch of grown. But the tree in the parkway that shaded everything, leaving the soil cold even while tulips bloomed ten feet away--this tree became ill. The first summer just a few big branches were dead, the next summer two-thirds of the tree failed to leaf out. Lucky for me, it was on the parkway, so it was the village government's responsibility to remove it. It was replaced with a new tree, a plucky, spiky little thing, that in its third summer looks like it's here to stay. But it won't be shading much of anything for many years.

The weeds have been celebrating, growing thick and tall and spindly like they could not do before. There are woody stems and sprouts of volunteer trees and shoots everywhere from the forsythia bush. I decided today that I wanted to be master of this patch, that it should look organized, intentional, as if there were a devoted happy homeowner. on the scene.

Actually I cleared out the weeds last May, in a previous effort to be master of the landscape. The weeds weren't so tall back then. The Lily of the Valley was spreading. It looked like there was hope for something in the nature of a garden here. I went to my sister Linda's house where ferns grow tall and thick next to the foundation. Linda brought these ferns here from the yard at my mother's old house, where we grew up, and they've thrived. They look like a prehistoric landscape where you'd find tiny dinosaurs skittering through the leaves. I dug some up and planted them next to my house, along with a wild geranium. My friend Tara contributed a big fern from her yard as well.

I had tried transplanting ferns before--ones from the garden at my mom's house. All that survived was one small-ish frond that came up faithfully every spring but never became something more--it did not spread to cover the bare ground under the old tree, nor did it lead a takeover against the weeds where the sun came to the area.

Within a week of transplanting the new ferns began to dry, curl and turn brown. Stressed by being moved from one garden to another? Probably. Giving up leaves while building stronger root systems? That would be the optimist's view. Just not going to make it? I can accept failure.

Today as I cleared out weeds and clipped the last of the brown, dried fronds, I discovered ferns that just might make it. There were tiny new still-curled fronds at the center of one plant, more developed growth on three more. They're weren't very tall, but I cleared out the dandelions  and Queen Anne's Lace around them and gave them room to grow. Maybe, I thought, I'll have a nice, thick easy-to-care-for patch of ferns here after all.

It was 12:45 p.m. The sun was bright, and high enough in the sky that the house provided no shade. It as hot. The sun beat down. These ferns which had staged a comeback while tall weeds were around to shade them are now going to be exposed to the hot summer sun every day.

What have I done? Will they make it? Were they better off as they were?

And what kind of metaphor is this for life?

Shelter me, O God, even under the weeds and Slippery Elm of my life.
Do not leave me in the sun, the bright, hot summer heat.
Let me grow in small ways, in moist places, not meddled with.
But if it must be, give me water in proportion to light, coolness rising from the ground.
Save me with your dark and soothing presence.

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