OK, 2021, You Can Leave Now

When we last visited, a week of 10-degree nights, rain, snow, and ice had been all fun and games and photo ops.

A devastated landscape ensued.

What can one do when faced with massive winter damage? Nothing but view the yard as an opportunity to redecorate.

Above, you see your beloved Unruly Gardener going after a big root after an entire day of sawing dead limbs and a jumble of smaller root parts. The tool is a “come-along,” and it’s a heavy one, capable of hoisting 3,000 pounds. The chain is heavy, too.

Why, you may be asking, would an old woman be hoisting this stuff around, while her strong and capable spouse would much prefer to perform such tasks?

Well because we didn’t get eight weeks into this ridiculous year without Floyd having spinal surgery, to repair a very old injury to his neck. Maybe it’s not such a great idea to start a year this way; but after two weeks of horrific post-surgical pain, his neck was better than it had been in years. He could sleep on his side and everything! He just wasn’t supposed to lift heavy things.

[Floyd’s Surgery Recovery Theorem: If I can lift 25 pounds after a week, I can lift 50 pounds after two weeks, etc. The Unruly Gardener is no expert, but she does not think this is good math.]

That method of root removal was so labor intensive, I implored Floyd to help me remove the dumb box hedges (seen on the right of the above photo) via the tried-and-true welding truck method. Wrap the big straps around ugly bushes and drive off.

While I had always enjoyed the wild greenery along this side of the house, I opted for a new look and placed only two “mirror-leaf viburnums” and 1.5 tons of 1″ granite chunks along that stretch. I like the new look a lot.

It seemed like the cleanup would never be finished. Week after week of sawing, lopping, trimming, bagging, and tying stretched along. I want to give a huge round of applause to the people who do yard waste pick-up here in Austin.

My guys are so wonderful they had even come into the yard to help me haul off the largest limbs. NextDoor was crackling with people complaining that their yard waste pick-up was late. Ya gotta love the humans, amirite?

To balance out the unpleasantness, I started a bunch of flower and herb seeds in the little greenhouse. I never start anything from seed, but it turned out to be a fortuitous choice, as The Natural Gardener would be “mobbed” for weeks. This would of course be the COVID-19 version of “mobbed:” long lines of cars waiting for someone to leave so they could go on in and the the number of shoppers could be kept low.

Thank you, 2021, for teaching us never to take simple tasks, pleasures, or errands for granted again. We get it. Lessons learned. You can go now.

What simple pleasures I’ve had have been wonderful, though.

It was also an amazing relief to become fully vaccinated and to know the kids and grandkids will all be fully vaccinated very soon now.

Crummy weather makes a good space for watercolor practice, too.

Day by day the crummy weather departed (are you listening, 2021?) and Spring arrived. Being as this is such a splendid year so far, it seemed like a good time for our fence to seriously fall apart and demand a pretty spendy replacement. While our neighbors prefer no fencing, we’ve become accustomed to having our back yard be a tiny nook of privacy.

Because the beautiful viburnum in the side yard looked as if it might be unable to deliver its usual vast array of pungent blooms or a necessary spread of shade, I decided to clean out the magnolia corner and let my tender potted pants summer there.

In difficult days, it is a good thing to walk outside and look at flowers. A lot.

This being 2021 and all, there have been difficult days. In early April Floyd did a face-plant off his mountain bike and broke his nose, as well as gashing it pretty impressively. I shall spare you those photos.

I decided to spend my birthday in San Pedro. I had treated myself to a new iCamera 12 Pro (let’s quit pretending I buy new phones, okay?) and had a good time comforting myself with So Cal flowers. It’s been decades since I was out there in April, and I must say it was nice to see Mary’s backyard succulents showing off (while so many of mine were limp slimy puddles but I’m not bitter).

We even managed to have wildflowers in the house.

A few months ago, Mary adopted a long-time stray kitty who’d been eating at her sister’s house for quite a while. He was a scraggly, flea-eaten mess. Their first trip to the vet revealed multiple serious health problems all the way up to cancer. This vet is a saint on earth whose fees for the treatment of strays are so low you want to go home and write the clinic a check after you’ve paid the bill.

His name is Max, and he is the sweetest darling of a boy who seems perfectly content to live out his final days in Mary’s doting care.

Max was also willing to help me with my so-called “artistic endeavors,” in the manner of helpful kitties everywhere.

Although it wasn’t easy to tear Mary away from him, I did wrangle her out of the house for walks and even a lunch at our usual place.

This was my first inkling that a corner had been turned, and we would be able to emerge from quarantine soon. Speaking of simple pleasures making us glad!

Mary made my birthday very festive.

Surely 2021 was on its way out!

I don’t think we’d even finished off the bubbly before my phone rang to remind me that this cursed year wasn’t about to be taken offstage willingly. A neighbor was phoning with one of those “he’ll be all right” calls.

Two weeks after the broken nose, Floyd took an extremely serious fall from his mountain bike. As soon as he went off that ledge and saw that his front wheel hit the ensuing slope first, he knew he was in trouble; he was. The only bright side was that he was with somebody, and the mountain bikers take serious care of each other. Calls were made, two bikers came to the spot with dispatch (lucky they can convey to each other any greenbelt location with pinpoint accuracy “You know, that place where the trail forks and you can head to the XYZ trail or down to the creek and there’s that tree…”) One biker stayed to assist Floyd, the other rode out to the street to direct the EMTs who were walking in.

Floyd says a helicopter flight from the greenbelt to Dell Seton is very quick.

Seven broken ribs, one broken clavicle, a shoulder that would prove to be separated but he wouldn’t know that until way later because somehow it didn’t seem much of a priority at the time, and two collapsed lungs later, Floyd was headed into five ICU days and four days in a plain old regular unit. Now almost a month later, that shoulder is the worst of it. I couldn’t do what he does with one broken rib, let alone seven; but the shoulder is very painful. The orthopedic surgeon opined no intervention needed, just give it a few months.

Second opinion, anyone?

Anyway, I’ll spare you those photos too. I will just say that when air keeps leaking out of your lungs, one of the things it likes to do is travel upward to give your neck and face a very balloon-like aspect. And if you press on the puffy surfaces, you can feel Rice Krispies under the skin. Since Dell Seton is a teaching hospital, numerous students came by to feel them so they will recognize such a phenomenon when it occurs. I kept telling them, “Floyd has cheekbones! He has a square jaw!”

So see, 2021 hasn’t been all bad! There’ve been important educational aspects!

Naturally I’d hurried home from Mary’s as fast as I could get here. For the first time we thought to use the Long Beach airport instead of LAX, and if an airport can be adorably cute, Long Beach is all that.

Busy looking for any bright spots in this infernal year, I was glad that many of my poppies were still thriving in the front yard. They were an enormous hit with the honeybees, who, I suppose, would have been enjoying my side yard viburnum if 2021 hadn’t murdered it.

The sidewalk garden had exploded into life, and it is always pleasant to walk up and down to see what’s emerging. Or, in the case of 2021, simply surviving.

And a great deal of comfort has been needed.

When I was at Mary’s, our boy Travis had a medical problem that involved bleeding into his pericardium. He’d simply collapsed one morning on his walk. Floyd spent a harrowing day going from our vet to the animal ER for tests, diagnosis, and treatment.

A few weeks later it happened again.

This time I was on ER duty and the vet let me know in the gentlest possible way that there was no good prognosis.

I don’t know what I’ll do when we don’t need face masks any more; they are very handy for ugly crying in public.

In a daze we made contact with some people my daughter had used before. I’m sorry for you if you aren’t in Austin, but maybe you have some people like this near you when the time comes: https://compassionatepetvet.com.

The week leading up to our appointment was one of the worst we’ve ever spent. Although the level of affection, play, and snuggling remained well within normal limits, there was enough crying to send me to bed with a headache every night, wishing I would be asleep for more than three or four hours but never quite getting there.

The evening before was splendid, the beautiful gold May sunlight and cool shade making it hard to come in the house. So many people came to say good-bye, Travis was in his element. The next morning a neighbor stopped by with her three-year-old, so Travis spent some of his last moments on earth playing stick.

When the vet arrived (Dr. Kimberly), she was already teary-eyed, so we knew we were in the right hands. She felt Travis’s chest and told us his heart was pressed right up against his chest wall, so we were reassured that we were doing the right thing. The nature of his illness was such that he was perfectly fine until he just collapsed.

So Travis died in his own bed, age 12, in our arms as we spoke our love for him into his ears and Dr. Kimberly fed him jerky treats and medication. We all cried.

When we were ready, Dr. Kimberly called the driver to come and retrieve his body so it could be cremated and returned in a different form to the greenbelt he loved so much. Floyd and I carried him out and placed him in a velvet-lined basket of precisely the right size.

We stood in the drizzle in the driveway for a long time after the van drove away, then turned and came into the house to try to figure out how to live without our darling boy.

We still haven’t figured it out.

Travis’s last evening

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