Wednesday, July 21, 2010

7.20 Get Your Hands Dirty

A remarkable number of unwanted plants – I couldn’t call them all “weeds” – live among the day lilies. I manicured a patch of the lilies, but that’s a mischaracterization too, because there wasn’t much left of the plants to manicure. It’s astonishing that a native plant in full flower two weeks ago could disappear so completely, so quickly. With, of course, every promise of coming back next year on schedule. Day by day the lilies bloom and drop through their flowering time. I deadhead the flower stalks. Last weekend Anne cuts down the now drying flowerless stalks.
This week I worm my way into the lily patch, doing a close to the ground sweep while trying not to step on anything I want to keep growing, and discover that most of the day lily leaves, those bold pointy spears of spring and early summer, have lost their green and withered to a papery dirty white. I pull them out. I pull out the dried-to-straw flower stalks.
Now when I look at that hunk of space, the flowering daisy “patch” of a few weeks ago, I see almost nothing but a few remaining green leaves lying on the ground or across one another, mingled with whatever decayed fronds I didn’t get to. Our bold spears have fallen.
So naturally other still growing species want to do something with the space, namely grow there. These plants are familiar by sight but anonymous because I don’t know the names of familiar backyard visitors. Some I do – the omnipresent lawn violet – which I spread myself in my aggressive ground-covering days and now find everywhere. I find also the thick green creeper I call “carpet” groundcover – a made-up name in place of a real one – has forced its way in here. Then a familiar fertile light green intruder; shows up every year, especially in the back half of the garden. I pull it out, but it’s hard to get the full root; it’ll be back. A few saplings. Some vinca, some pachysandra sprouts; not really their assigned seating, but okay.
All of which took some time and resulted in relatively little beautification.
But it was a pleasure.
A time of stasis comes in mid-summer, when everything the natural world has to offer, and everything which you have expecting as you go through mental checklist of warm-weather pleasures, seems finally to have arrived, and already you are tired of them. It’s like being a kid bored with the eagerly-awaited but now rather long-seeming summer vacation. When you are a kid, the day comes when the prospect of going down to the playground to play the same games you played the day before and every day before that doesn’t seem worth the effort. You’ll go back to those games, the next day, or the next week, and eagerly anticipate them, but not today. Today’s the day of nothing doing.
When you’re older, you say it’s too hot to work, too sticky to sit outdoors under a tree, and there’s too much traffic between you and the beach. Things have come to a halt, and the day-lilies have wilted.
Maybe it’s another “beautiful summer day at the ballpark” as they say on TV when the baseball game is about to begin. But some days sitting in the stands watching others play doesn’t do it for you.
Looking forward to time off from work, or to that golden idle summertime of the soul, we say “I’m just going to sit around and do nothing.” We do it. But it doesn’t last; not for very long.
We actually want to do something. It’s doing, engagement, that’s fun.
So I go outdoors and get my hands dirty picking through the lily patch. I make no great discoveries. Some stalks of the volunteer plant with blue bell-shaped flowers – another anonymous standby – are still standing and I decide to cut them down. I pull up some other volunteers to expose the shape of a late summer phlox whose blooms we can still anticipate. I assess the water-needs of the tall shrubs whose roots lie hard by the fence and are generally obscured, judging them okay. These activities make little difference to the shape of things.
But I have enjoyed some time among the bees and the ants and breezes which wave the flowers of the still-blooming liatris and the red lobelia and the larkspur, reminding me why we have them. I have had some thoughts. (Don’t ask me what they were.) I have nourished the senses and revived what other natural impulses we have that keep us going.
I have put my hands on the earth and got them dirty. I’ll miss that in the winter.