What does spring mean?
I’ve spent the past year figuring out what it means to be sixty; in a few days I’ll move to the next number. It’s my belief that every “zero birthday” brings sea-changes, and this one has been no exception. There are new aches in the body upon waking, and a new sense of passing the world’s troubles onto stronger shoulders. I feel strung somewhere between Prufrock’s youthful abashment and Yeats’s “tattered coat upon a stick,” and I’m not sure I can hear any singing at all.
At the same time, I am perfectly capable of driving through our suburban neighborhood with the windows down and Clapton blasting from the speakers; and when I play the rock classics that framed my young years for my college students, they are enthralled – as if they know that what issues from today’s pop stars will not last as long. Tonight Floyd and I connected our phones to the little Bose speaker thing I was given in exchange for my old iPhone, and Frank Sinatra sang, “What are you doing the rest of your life?” and I wasn’t sure my students would quite get that. They surely don’t know what to to with Cole Porter.
At sixty the invisibility all women my age understand isn’t as painful as it was ten years ago. I feel on the brink of some permission-giving dynamic: I’m about to be the old lady who says whatever she feels like saying. Sometimes that will make me the wise woman, as it should be for one who’s reached the stage Erikson characterized as a striving for “generativity.” It is a good thing, to feel decades of experience have some meaning.
Other times it just makes me the grouchy old woman who can’t make the simplest household devices work. I felt one step ahead of the gray-headed, overall-clad man at the Verizon store this morning who was having trouble with his e-mail. My Grouchy Old Lady persona thinks, If Verizon is going to offer tech support, they should have a Help Desk and make room for those of us who just want to buy stuff without standing in line for an hour.
Five hours later I was back at the Verizon store because I’d been trying to register my bullet-proof phone case and needed a product number from inside the case. The salesman had been kind enough to put my new phone into the case, and he’s written down one product number for me, but the website seemed to want another number. Problem: I couldn’t open the case.
Ah well. If patience wasn’t my strong suit when I was six, or thirty-six, it certainly isn’t going to be my greatest strength at sixty. Or beyond. Maybe spring should step in here, because this particular spring has certainly tested the patience of The Unruly Gardener.
It seems like years since I’ve written anything. But spring’s been slow in coming, and just as a gardener of any stripe would walk away from a sewing machine when freezing weather finally grinds to a halt, one cannot be expected to spend sunny spring days typing. This rather disappoints my mother-in-law Marye, who likes my posts; for such an appreciative audience, I really should do better.
When the sun is out, I can barely keep myself indoors. If I recall correctly (a premise on which I would never place money), last year I planted very few new things. It didn’t seem like I did any work in the yard at all. The prospect of my long-awaited first trip to Italy bathed the first five months of 2013 in a golden haze, and the trip itself gave the next few months a diamond shimmer, so I could have done a great deal more work than I remember, without a moment’s suffering. But it didn’t seem like I did much.
This year has seen the entire month of March devoted to landscape projects, general clean-up, all those rocks, and about fifty new plants. While I probably should have been doing a thorough spring cleaning inside the house, every yard space but one was getting major attention. No matter how much my back aches or how dirty my fingernails become, it’s a lot more fun than scrubbing behind toilets and cleaning baseboards.
On one recent morning the hummingbird feeders were filled, and the next afternoon as I was taking a break in the tiny spot of shade on the patio, I heard the unmistakeable helicopter thrum of little wings. They were back, pale and thin and thirsty. This is the first time I’ve set out two feeders, so we’ll see whether that reduces the level of warfare. I doubt it will. Hummingbirds would rather fight than drink at separate stations.
Also as I was sitting there, I watched with my own two eyes as a pair of finches lighted in the steel planter and set to work chomping up the leaves of a sunflower. (!) Evidently our three finch feeders and an ocean of Nyjer seeds aren’t enough for them. I’m beginning to suspect that a certain percentage of the damage I’ve been blaming on rodents and insects can be traced directly to pretty little innocent-looking birds. It’s good to get a new perspective on things, even if it’s things like who’s really the evildoer around here.
It took a bit of time and effort to empty, wash, and collapse the little greenhouse last weekend, but it’s done. Although I’d love to show you, I’m also quite relieved not to have video footage of Yours Truly wrestling a tall euphorbia in a heavy planter from the back yard to its summer place by the front door. The spiny many-armed creature leans way back against the dolly, so I generally wrap it in a towel during transport to prevent the loss of too much skin from my face.
The towel rarely wants to stay put, however, preferring to fall onto me so I can scratch my hands as I instinctively go to grab it. Some jobs around here are much better done by two people; but The Unruly Gardener lacks, as I say, patience. Who feels like waiting until we’re both home to do the chore?
I feel that the sidewalk garden is on the brink of bursting into bloom. A few Mexican primroses have opened, with plenty more waiting in the wings; and lots of the new plants arrived with flowers. After such a winter, I was in serious need of color. The pomegranate in the sidewalk garden is working really hard to come back. Every day (okay, multiple times per day) I go out to check for new leaves, and it’s a moment of triumph when they appear higher up the stalk than the ones I’d found previously. In a few more weeks I’ll begin cutting back.
I don’t know if the Mexican bird of Paradise is coming back at all. If I say I’ve already decided that another blue plumbago would look great in that spot, does it make me look fickle? I sound all tough, but still must steel myself when the time comes to actually remove a plant that has left this vale of tears.
As a matter of fact, I could replace the bird of Paradise with a crape myrtle I couldn’t throw away two years ago: I stuck it in a big pot telling myself I’d send it out for the next bulk trash collection. The thing refused to die. At the moment it has more leaves than any of the other crape myrtles in the yard. Maybe I should honor its steely will to live by putting it in the ground.
Around the neighborhood, bluebonnets are exploding into bloom. Also along every highway and byway. If the weather is fair this coming weekend, throngs of people with no imagination and no concern for the destruction of property that is not in fact theirs will be tromping their babies and dogs through the flowers to pose for insipid photographs. Fields of bluebonnets will have foot trails and trampled patches, and to complain about it is generally regarded as treasonous here in Central Texas, state flower or no. I may be unruly, but I am not generally in favor of the wanton destruction of any flowers, official or otherwise.
These are the days of the most pleasant weather we have: warm sun, cool shadows, chilly nights. It’s always a sorrowful thing for me, to close up the windows for the last time until autumn. I’m pretty sure if I had the house to myself I’d postpone air conditioning as long as I could. One year I when I did have a house to myself I didn’t turn it on until July. But Floyd can’t sleep under a whirling ceiling fan, so the cooling machine must be brought into service rather earlier than July.
It was good, two days ago, to throw a birthday party for the two eldest grands just as the big yard chores were wrapping up. When the scavenger hunt was over, and burgers and tots and ice cream and cupcakes had been consumed, the two youngest took it into their heads to clean up the last of the leaves left over from my ridiculous shenanigans with the leaf blower.
It seems such a short time that little ones compete over who gets to use which rake, and who does the better job of picking up leaves and repositioning rocks! Floyd and I chided ourselves for having failed to take advantage of this opportunity earlier in the month.
Nothing like a girl who can get her yard work done in a Hello Kitty shirt, pink tutu, and silver slippers with glitter on the toes. We’ll make an Unruly Gardener out of her yet.
One of her older brothers, there on the right, is a man of many interests and talents. To him goes the credit for the photograph of the playscape, above.
Spring means hard work, cupcakes, and emerging flowers, among other things. It means now and it means wait. It means you turn a certain corner and come face to face with the question, How many of these do I have left? A daunting prospect. It helps to have small children run in and out periodically, even if they do leave Nerf bullets everywhere and love to play with light switches for no apparent reason other than to watch lights go on and off. What better reason could there be?
It says something about being sixty, that I can think My last existence on this earth will be in their memories, and smile without being too surprised that I am smiling.