Spring in the Sonoran desert is as fleeting as a meteor streaking across the night sky. For a precious few weeks, we’re treated to sunny temperate days, cool nights, and welcome cloudbursts that bring, if Mother Nature finds us deserving, a glorious show of wildflowers. This is one of our jackpot years. Swathes of lupines, poppies, and globe mallows transform otherwise bland roadsides and stretches of desert into tapestries of vibrant blues and bright yellow-oranges.
In my own backyard stalks of hot pink penstamen stretch skyward, and long stems of globe mallow droop with hot orange flowers. The onset of wildflowers signals backyard gardeners to drop everything and get outside before the window of opportunity closes. I’m part of that group: an unabashed, avid gardener. To be truly candid, I’m probably more of a plant addict. There, I’ve said it. Much like my passion for dogs, I’ve rarely met a plant I’m not interested in getting to know better. For me, there’s nary a difference between a weed and a wildflower. If it blooms, it lives in my garden.
First on the agenda this spring was major pruning. To bushwhack a path to the less invasive, smaller salvias and lantanas, several feet had to come off the flowering, bird of paradise shrubs. Next, the bottlebrush bushes, already beginning to bud, were pruned and opened up. Once their thickening buds bristle open, worker bees will stake their claim. Waiting to prune a bottlebrush until the bees are busy working is a foolish game of gardening Russian roulette.
Maneuvering through my maze of plantings can be challenging, even to me. A jab from the sword-like daggers of a small yucca, playing hide-and-go-seek under an overgrowth of intertwined lantana, drove that point home. Pun intended. Swearing, and moving with more caution, I raked up a winter’s worth of fallen leaves and trimming debris, working carefully around ribbons of irrigation lines. My back told me it wasn’t happy, but my brain appreciates the focus of landscaping and planting. It quiets, and the receptors in my mind relax and open.
The solitude of my garden, the repetitive nature of the work, and the superb listening skills of my plants, give me permission to speak freely. When I’m outdoors and away from human voices, thoughts flow with a clarity that escapes me when sitting at my keyboard, or even when conversing face-to-face. Watching bees diving in and out of mallow blooms gave me an idea for a short piece of fiction. A couple of brilliant phrasings also floated to the forefront, but sadly drifted off like fluff from the milkweed pods. Note to self: tuck a small notebook in shirt pocket and try to keep notes free of garden-soil smears.
The time spent digging and trimming saves me from the therapist’s couch. Lost in the work, I find closure for those unresolved issues that niggle away in the recesses of memory. Trimming around some prickly aloe veras, I imagined in-depth conversation with an ex-close friend. By the time I was done internally expounding, I attacking dead stems with a little too much vigor, and stopped just short of chopping into an irrigation line. Stream of consciousness in the garden, as freeing as it is, might not be the best route to go when working with clippers and shears.
So, until the heat hits and drives me indoors, if your phone call goes to my message machine or your texts go unanswered, assume I’m in the backyard, engaged in plant therapy. Be happy, maybe even relieved. It could be you on the receiving end rather than a geranium.
Maybe it was waking up to an email that another uncle passed away; maybe it was the recent anniversaries of deaths; maybe it was the ring of the phone rousing me from a deep, dream-state, sleep, but whatever the cause, my untethered thoughts spiraled off in this direction:
At this moment, life is on cruise control with very few bumps in the road, but…. It only takes one text, one email, one blood test, one summons to the boss’s office, or one second to freshen lipstick in the rear view mirror, for the light from the sunniest day to get sucked into a black hole. Life can spin us off our axis faster than a hurricane can fell a tree, and every time we retell the story, we’ll say something like, “But the day started out so well. It was just an ordinary day…. I never saw it coming….” Even years later, the disbelief will resonate in our voices.
I don’t know about you, but when my phone rings before 7:00 a.m., my guts contract like I’m being laced into the 18-inch-waist of a Victorian corset. The absolute worst omen of disaster is being blasted from sleep by the shrill sound of the telephone. I don’t react well. I can’t breathe; my heart races; and my mouth dries out like the Sahara Desert at noon. Why? Because too often disaster has struck in the early hours of the morning.
New Year’s Day, many years ago, I awoke to the call that my future husband’s mother passed away in the wee hours of the New Year. Three weeks later, the very day I was to arrange hospice care for my grandmother, an early morning caller urged me to rush to the hospital; my grandmother was near death. A year later on the Fourth of July (my husband was overseas on a business trip), I answered a frantic 4:30 a.m. call from my stepmother. She’d arrived home from a night shift to find my father sprawled on the bathroom floor. He’d died alone. And the story continues—my mother rushed to the hospital with a heart attack, a gut-wrenching betrayal by a close family member, a cancer diagnosis….
Each time my life was diverted off course, I rallied. What other choice is there but to suck it up and do whatever has to be done? But once the heartbreak was handled and the end of the tunnel was in sight, I promised myself and the heavens to begin living more in the moment, appreciate every day, and never take anyone or life itself for granted again. Blah, blah, blah.