As I sat in our sun room back in February waiting for the snow to do—something—I started to wonder, what is underneath all that snow?
Well, now I know.
I have decided to let our Back Forty (basically our half-acre backyard) become a meadow. Tom had been there a while, but I thought I was supposed to please some imaginary home owners’ association (HOA) and keep it closely shorn.
It isn’t even really a lawn in the traditional suburban sense. It’s some kind of grass interspersed with various “weeds,” including dandelions. As it turns out, mostly dandelions.
For weeks, I have overlooked a sea of bright yellow dandelions basking in the sun, waving in the breeze, drinking in the occasional rain. They grew tall around our patio, prevailed right in front of the sun room windows, dispersed themselves around the sides of the back forty.
As they turn into the fairy puffs, new smaller yellow flowers have begun to appear. Along with thistles that, quite frankly, don’t quite know their boundaries. Eventually they have pretty purple flowers, but they do try to take over.
I don’t know who declared war on dandelions, or why. They are quite lovely and I have noticed more bees buzzing and butterflies fluttering about since I let them have dominion.
I don’t think this is a coincidence.
I have never “gardened.” It’s mysterious to me. Neither my mother nor my grandmother gardened. So, perhaps, that is why. I have said that plants thank me for not paying attention to them for that assures their demise.
So, here is what I decided instead. I will let things grow and then listen to them.
I adopted this approach after discovering that snow does not exist to enthrall me. What it covers will be revealed in its own time. And it is not just snow that transforms the landscape. Look at the dandelions.
All this as I find myself sailing into the harbor of seventy. In less than three months, I will have completed seven decades of one-more-trip-around-the-sun. It’s not so much that seventy years feels old or final, as that I find it demanding that I listen to it.
Here’s what it’s said so far:
I get to decide what my garden looks like. I am the artist in my garden. I do not have to listen to some mythical HOA to define its colors, forms, or purpose. Instead, I can let the garden grow and listen to it, let it show me the shape and rhythm of each coming journey around the sun.
It took courage for me, a people pleaser, to let the Back 40 be. People pleasing has always been a way of distracting people from seeing me, a way to fend off abusive behavior directed at me—behavior intended to keep me in line, well behaved, ready to serve. It was my inner HOA, as it were.
As I sat down to right* this, I remembered Alice Walker’s book of essays, “In Search of our Mothers’ Gardens.” She introduced me to the word “womanist,” saying that it is to feminist as lavender is to purple.
“From the black folk expression of mothers to female children, ‘You acting womanish,’ i.e, like a woman. Usually referring to outrageous or willfull behavior. Wanting to know more and in greater depth than is considered ‘good.’ . . . Responsible. In charge. Serious.”
Alice Walker from “In Search of our Mothers’ Gardens”
I am a womanist.
In the spring, I plan to scatter some wildflower seeds. I hope to create paths that lead to the fruit trees in the far reaches of the Back Forty, and use containers to grow a few vegetables.
Most of all, every morning I will sit still and listen to what the grandmothers have to tell me about this small piece of earth that I have decided I belong to.
needs two hearts
one to root
and one to flower
One to sustain
in time of drouth
and hold fast
against winds or pain
the fragile bloom
that in the glory
of its hour
affirms a heart
*Note: I intended to write “write,” instead of right. But then I realized that I actually did mean I wanted to right what had been wrong minded on my part. Stop listening to my inner HOA, let things grow, and listen.